Don't Blame Thomas
After having read Steven Ginsberg's article Jan. 5 and a letter from Mark Constantine on Jan. 12, it would be easy to conclude that Valley View Park was constructed without any public review, based on the whims and desires of Park Authority board member R.B. Thomas.
For the newer residents of Prince William County, I feel that a few additional historical facts are necessary to balance the story.
The Prince William Park Authority was formed by the Prince William Board of County Supervisors so that there would be a separate entity to hold public hearings and otherwise oversee the growth of recreational facilities in a rapidly growing county. It didn't hurt that a separate board provided political cover when difficult choices had to be made. When my father was a member of the Park Authority board in the early 1980s, plans were made for a Nokesville park, including a public swimming pool. Although the park was eventually built, the pool was scrapped for budget reasons -- a difficult choice.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Park Authority was directed by the supervisors that priority should be given to recreational efforts that produce income. Budgetary funding to the authority was not provided at a level consistent with the growth of the county. As we already had the highest real estate taxes in the state, there were no increases for recreational funding. This led to a new evil -- user fees.
The softball community has pressed for additional facilities for local use in the west end of the county for more than 20 years. The Fairmont Park was constructed through the fundraising efforts of softball players, as well as contributions from Thomas Engineering (read that "R.B. Thomas"). Thus, even if the Valley View Park cost overruns were Mr. Thomas's personal responsibility, county residents would still be ahead of the game. The Park Authority assumed responsibility for maintenance of the facility and agreed to light the fields. Eventually there were new homes built nearby, and the proposal to light the fields failed. Through the 1980s and 1990s, local softball leagues have been forced to reduce operations because of lack of available fields.
When I served on the community board that heard recommendations and community input on the development of Valley View Park, the development of softball vs. soccer was a large issue, as was the installation of lights. Both sports have large memberships in the county. The Park Authority agreed that the two softball fields at Ben Lomond Park would be changed to soccer, as the softball leagues have been playing there on fields without adequate room.
R.B. Thomas runs one softball tournament annually in partnership with Prince William County, which serves to fill up hotels and restaurants, providing a positive economic impact. The Valley View Park is not his palace. The desire to have the Valley View Park contain a softball complex was applauded by the facility-starved softball leagues in the county -- we lobbied for their inclusion after 20 years with no results.
A softball complex in the park was seen as a virtue by the Park Authority (not just R.B. Thomas), given the economic impact that attracting additional tournaments could provide. In several Park Authority board meetings I have attended, the economic benefits were stressed; this could help the park pay for itself.
While I will acknowledge that R.B. Thomas sponsors a nationally ranked softball team, I feel obligated to point out that softball is his passion, not his occupation. Mr. Thomas has given far more to this community that he has ever received. I have served with Mr. Thomas on various committees at Nokesville United Methodist Church, and it pains me to see others twist past history at his expense.
If our supervisors wish to dispose of the Park Authority, I hope they plan future facilities better than they have funded past efforts by the Park Authority. The authority has operated for years with inadequate funding. With the high user fees (we dare not call it taxes) paid by softball players, soccer players, basketball players and (insert your sport here) players who use county facilities, it will be good to finally have elected politicians responsible for the services provided who can stand up and be held accountable for the recreational facilities provided (or unavailable) to residents of this county. If the high fees were simply included in the tax base, at least many of us could then deduct them from our federal taxes. As the existence of facilities generally enhance property values, I would like to see this change.
Decisions have not been made in back alleys and smoke-filled rooms -- the supervisors approved the land swap, not R.B. Thomas. The real conflict is between those who favor growth vs. those who do not. Anyone who reads these pages knows this all too well.
Jeffrey N. Brown
Park Is Not for Residents
I take issue with the news reports stating that resident input factored a need for additional softball fields and concession stands at Valley View Park. Resident input favored fewer softball fields and no lights, and more amenities for the local community. Adult softball players and R.B. Thomas Jr., executive director of the International Senior Softball Association, president of the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame and Park Authority board member, favored the need for an elaborate softball facility.
There were numerous meetings attended by residents of Nokesville, beginning in 1998 and ending in 2000: Park Authority board meetings, Board of County Supervisors meetings, citizen advisory committee meetings and the Nokesville Civic Association meetings. I was at all the meetings.
At all the above meetings, residents of the Nokesville area asked for: no lights, fewer softball fields, walking/jogging/equestrian trails, equestrian facilities at the existing barns on the property, a volleyball court, playground, picnic pavilion and open areas.
Because of an e-mail blitz to adult softball players of the Greater Manassas Softball Association, Christian Fellowship Softball League and Woodbridge Men's Softball League, the softball players also attended many of the same meetings and were the only ones to speak in favor of many lighted softball fields. They didn't ask for any other amenities.
There was no doubt from the beginning that the plans were set for a mega-regional softball complex, which grew from three fields to five lighted softball fields, complete with concession stands, restrooms and player facilities. At one of the citizen advisory committee meetings, R.B. Thomas brought pictures from an out-of-state multimillion dollar softball complex that he wanted to model this one after.
During these meetings, residents brought up the fact that they believed there was a conflict of interest by Park Authority board member R.B. Thomas, who runs softball tournaments and could benefit from the facilities. This was quickly dismissed by the Board of County Supervisors and the Park Authority board.
Also, residents pointed out that this was not a community park to benefit residents but a regional park to draw out-of-county, out-of-state and out-of-country adult softball players. I'm sure this is not what voters had in mind when they approved the bond.
Specifically, only $3 million was allotted for Valley View Park, and they have already spent $5.4 million. Of note both the Brentsville and Nokesville precincts voted against the bond. This community didn't want this park even before it became the softball palace of Virginia.
Finally, Valley View Park should never have been built where it is. It is in the middle of farmland and rural housing developments on a narrow two-lane country road. This goes against Prince William County's Comprehensive Plan.
Include the Parents
I purchased my home primarily so my daughter could attend Mountain View Elementary School and reap the benefits of a math and science specialty program.
During visits with school officials and conversations with county officials since July, no one ever advised me of the possible boundary changes.
Basically, the committee comprises volunteer Parent Teacher Organization members, none of whom represents the children and parents in the Blankenship subdivision.
The possibility of moving school boundaries is already a sensitive issue; the improper abuse of authority within the process makes it that much worse. The first committee meeting, Nov. 21, began the process, which never invited the input of those directly affected. No preplanning meetings were held, and no feedback from the community was sought before any re-boundary planning. No parents of kindergartners for the 2003-04 school year were sought to be members of this committee.
No one needs help like this. We don't appreciate being ignored, neither would the committee if they were in our shoes.
Adequate notice of the proposed new school boundary was not given to those affected in the Blankenship subdivision, as well as other subdivisions. Some might argue that a school newsletter or newspaper carried an article, but no one in the Blankenship subdivision was contacted directly, even though we are directly and adversely impacted by the arbitrary new boundaries.
No active communication was afforded the taxpayers and parents during this process, and no active attempt at feedback was pursued. The boundary committee says it had three options for consideration; however, not one of these "options" gives any of the neighbors of the Blankenship subdivision any choice in where our children will attend elementary school. It appears the committee acted in its own interests and not those of our children.
First of all, the neighbors of the Blankenship subdivision are parents and taxpayers, and we have an absolute right to be active participants in anything related to our children's welfare. No one has the right to deny that right by ignoring we exist and trying to slide the boundary change by in an "accelerated schedule." This schedule should be standard every time a boundary change occurs, no exceptions.
Second, and equally important, the change in schools will impact our children and the quality of their education. Will the new school be staffed by the same qualified and experienced teachers and administrative personnel that are currently at Mountain View Elementary? Will the special education, advanced programs and specialty math and science be available at the new school like they are at Mountain View Elementary?
Our children deserve a stable school environment, not one requiring them to be shuffled around. And we deserve some competent, knowledgeable planners who look beyond today and plan for tomorrow.
Lynda A. Bottos