Pearls of Wisdom

Fort Lee High School Gym / Disaster 101

There are “none so blind as those who will not see” (Jeremiah 5:21, and later utilized by satirist Jonathan Swift in his book of idioms “Polite Conversation”).  Since there are members of the Fort Lee community who refuse to acknowledge the decrepit state of our school buildings, I am now forced to be their eyes and ears. 

Having two children at Fort Lee High School, I have recently had the opportunity to visit the high school on several occasions, e.g. back-to-school night; student events, etc. It would be remiss of me to not survey the many building deficiencies present, most of which will not be rectified any time soon simply for lack of funds (e.g. FLHS football field, UGH!) But sometimes, money CANNOT be the defining issue, when a problem arises that is so disconcerting, so detrimental to our children that we can no longer “leave our blinders on and turn a deaf ear”.

The Fort Lee High School Gymnasium is an “unmitigated disaster”.  Based on its current appearance and state of disrepair, one would estimate that it was originally built about the same time as the Coliseum in Rome.   

After discussions with students; parents; and faculty members; I have drawn one obvious conclusion. It is an embarrassment to the community; it is a danger to our children; and something has to be done NOW!

It is difficult to even know where to begin. The following list of issues is just a microcosm of all the problems facing the community in any attempt to upgrade Fort Lee High School : 

(1)   The photo to the right demonstrates the deplorable state of the walls; i.e. cracked tiles and a filthy grating.  There are many cracked tile areas throughout the entire gym.

(2)   The biggest problem is the floor surface.  It appears to be decades old without having been resurfaced.  Recommended resurfacing according to one Google site was 5-7 years. Even if you strip and use Polyurethane on the floor annually, the coating will only survive the heavy usage for a short time each year, as the floor itself desperately needs to be replaced.  It is inevitable that some kid will eventually slip, resulting in a severe injury from this negligence.  As a coach, I would be “very reluctant” to hold full-speed drills.  As a gym teacher, I would want to be very careful not to hold any activities that would endanger the children. Note: We do live in a very litigious society.

(3)   Matting has fallen off sections of the wall creating a precarious situation. 

(4)   There are exposed outlets.

(5)   The speaker system is antiquated, poor quality and should be replaced immediately.

(6)   There are broken lights almost all the time; the maintenance department needs to replace them on a regular basis and they need to have the replacement lights in stock.

(7)   The scoreboard is barely functional; it does not work 90% of the time (according to several students interviewed). 

(8)   There are four (4) locker rooms; three for the boys and one for the girls.   This is probably a violation of Title 9, but ….

(9)   The “Hall of Fame” section, has evolved into the “Hall of Shame”, not having been updated in years, with names peeling off.  Beyond giving these Fort Lee High School “heroes” the respect they deserve, we should have a little more pride in our heritage.  As for updating the “Hall”, could there not be a club organized at FLHS to fix that problem?  A little ingenuity can go a long way.  Note:  It has been brought to my attention that the Hall of Fame was supposed to include a unique basketball.  Sandy Burgos, local basketball star, set the Fort Lee record of 2121 points scored and set a NJ State record of over 300 three point field goals.   This “ball” does not appear to be part of this display.  That would be a heartbreaking loss of an important piece of memorabilia.

(10) The bleachers are antiques, no railings and just plain disgusting on every level. 


The Board of Education has a capital expense fund of over $ 2 million.  The most obvious solution to this problem is to access money from this fund, estimated $ 100k, to upgrade our gym.   Let’s make it a showcase for the community and show a little pride.  Most importantly, let’s give our kids a SAFE environment for sporting events and activities! 

For once, I would request that the citizens of Fort Lee, en masse, pull together to implement a change that it ultimately critical to the safety and welfare of our children. Please attend the Nov. 12 and Nov. 26 BOE meetings and show your support for this cause!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Renee Mattesich October 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM
I couldn't agree with you more!
Ada Mercuri-Garcia October 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Howard, if you walk through ANY of our school you will find these conditions and much worse. Sewage leaks, missing stall doors in bathrooms, mold, etc. There is so much to be done. But our Flagship, the High School hosts many events including a recent national news show and it is embarrassing. But really, what's the hurry? The Roman Coloseum is still standing.
Erica Amarini October 28, 2012 at 11:30 PM
I'm a student there and I completely agree. Our gym is horrible! I play basketball and you really have to be careful with the floors because you can slip at any moment. Also the bleachers are completely disgusting. You never know when they will collapse. It's dangerous. It's also completely unfair how the boys get 3 locker rooms while the girls only get one. We play the same amount if sports as them but we only have one. Looking at our hall of fame is a shame. They are medals and trophies from the 1930's. I understand that we're probably not as good as we used to be but we still win games and tournaments and we still have our high scorers. All of this should be recognized. Needless to say, it's definitely time for a new gym and an updated hall of fame!
Lisa Amarini October 28, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Its about time that someone adressed this issue. All of the points that you made about our school are 100 percent correct. Its rediculous that no one fixes any of these problems. I couldnt agree more with what youve had to say.
Danielle Elmers October 28, 2012 at 11:48 PM
yes its ridiculous. As someone who just had knee surgery I am legitimately afraid to run in the gym for fear of slipping. It is a shame that our gym has gotten to the point that it could seriously harm the students. I mean even the bleachers are a hazard without steps and hand rails. What if an elderly person wants to sit on the bleachers and they get hurt? Our gym needs to renovated soon. I want to be proud of my gym and not make excuses about its "sucky" conditions anymore.
Paula Colbath October 29, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Howard, thank you for bringing this need to the parents', Administration's and community's attention. I have never posted on Patch, but this story is very concerning to me and highlights how our District's $60 million budget is not (always) being spent for the direct benefit of our children. As you know, I am a parent of a student at School 4 and am not as knowledgeable about severe needs like this at other schools, like our High School. Recently, the public saved the BOE about $80,000 by challenging the Superintendent's recommendation on the BGIA Insurance contract. We should request that those savings be applied to this project. Also, rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consulting firms (such as District Management Council ($125,000) and Seraph, a security/background checking firm) or continuing to create new administrator positions (i.e., recently created Assistant Superintendent position paying over $150,000/year), taxpayer money should go first to these types of projects -- which will immediately impact the safety of our students and enhance the District's image. I plan to be at the next 2 BOE meetings (there is also a BOE "goal setting" meeting on 11/5 where I hope safety issues like this will be raised). Again, thank you for bringing this need to our attention, so we can mobilize parents to the next several BOE meetings and get this rectified ASAP.
Tricia October 29, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Howard you hit the nail on the head. Its sad to think that a parent had to write such an article to bring this to the attention of the Board of Education and the Super Intendent. People say that first impressions say a lot, I can only imagine what the spectators think of Fort Lee after stepping foot in the High School Gym. It is an embarrassment to our children that this is what we give them to use. Shame on the system that allows positions to be created without putting the safety of our children first. DO WHATS RIGHT FOR OUR CHILDREN.....
Brianna Mattessich October 29, 2012 at 12:41 AM
As a Fort Lee High School alumnus and former student athlete, I've personally endured these ridiculous conditions in the gymnasium. I have witnessed my teammates go through injuries due to the floors not being adequate and harmful to athletes and students. It is dangerous to continue to have activities in this kind of environment. Not only is it dangerous, it is also embarrassing to our community and school as a whole. The lights are dim and dark and make it hard to see during activities at night. The bleachers are worn down and are not suitable to everyone. The "hall of fame" gives no recognition to previous athletes who have earned their way to being the best the high school has seen. As for the locker rooms, it is completely unfair that girls don't have an equal number of locker rooms. As a former female athlete, it is terrible that we had to rely on one locker room and during games, use the boys locker room. The speakers make it hard to hear the music and announcers. It is a disgrace that nothing has been done to change these horrendous conditions. It is time to make a change and make the gymnasium something to be proud of.
Genevieve Noel October 29, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Being a former student-athlete and alumnus at Fort Lee High School, I have personally witnessed myself, my teammates, and my friends become victims of the inappropriate conditions of the Fort Lee High School gym. One of our coaches' main concerns is the safety their athletes. With floors being old and under-par, there is very little the coaches can do to ensure a safe practice or game. It also affects the safety of the athletes who come to our school to part-take in the numerous sporting events that are hosted by the FLHS Athletic Department. The bleachers are in fact dangerous. They shake when you step on to them, and I have seen many families struggle to safely make there way to a spot where they would be comfortable. The locker rooms are a huge issue. Not only is there one female locker room, but the amount of "athlete lockers" in the actual locker room is insufficient. The female student-athletes shouldn't have to share a locker room with people taking regular gym courses, whereas the male athletes of the school do not have this issue. Broken and dim lights make the gym gloomy and dull. It's surprising in itself that this is the first time anything is being said about the conditions of a place that is so commonly used by the community. I hope that for the sake of the athletes, students, and supporting families, that this issue can be resolved in a timely fashion. As said by our Fort Lee Women's Basketball coach herself, "It's a pride thing!".
David Reyes October 29, 2012 at 12:59 AM
As a former First Team All-County basketball player who graduated from Fort Lee High School in 2000, I am in shock that 12 years later, there is STILL no upgrades to the gym. The coaches and players put a lot of work into the game and deserve a better facility. The fans do as well.
Lindsey Clesmere October 29, 2012 at 01:16 AM
As a former student athlete of Fort Lee High School and a active member of the community I think it is a shame that our gym hasn't been fixed up in years. As a former basketball player I can say it is humiliating to have other teams who keep their gyms in superb condition to come play at Fort Lee, it shows our lack of care for our facilities and our players well being. The gym is extremely slippery and unfortunately many season ending injuries have occurred such as ACL tears and broken bones. It is pathetic that no one has taken action yet. Also, as a female athlete it is very dishonorable to only have one locker room and a violation of Title 9 which states that no person, based on sex, shall be denied participation or BENEFITS. There is no reason for the boys to have three locker rooms and the girls to only have one. Everyone complains that Fort Lee has no school spirit, however if the gym was redone and made into something we would all be proud of as a community that would change.
William Mays October 29, 2012 at 02:28 AM
I completely agree, the gym was in crappy condition when I graduated all those years ago, and its a real shame that it still hasn't been renovated.
Megan Gimson October 29, 2012 at 03:14 AM
Last year playing in this gym for both volleyball and basketball was an embarrassment. The tiles are green and cracked, the bleachers are ancient and the floor is both slippery and two different color oranges. I have been injured from slipping on the floor before a game, and have witnessed other avoidable injuries happen because of poor upkeep. The floor is treated terribly all year round, something that yearly resurfacing can't repair. There's only so much you can do to improve a place that is long past little fixes. It isn't fair to the people that really care about representing Fort Lee: the athletes. Student safety should be a priority for this town. The lack of pride within the walls of the high school is as embarrassing as the condition of the school. The boys having four locker rooms while the girls share one doesn't make sense and could be an easy fix, but Fort Lee seems to turn a blind eye to this along with the decrepit gym and deteriorating conditions of much of the school. I hope there is a change soon so that the alumni and current students of Fort Lee high can have something to be proud of and show off.
Shawn Arnone October 29, 2012 at 01:51 PM
As a parent, community member and sports fan, all I can say is WOW. And, I can tell you that moving out of Fort Lee for 8 years before returning 2 years ago, I attended events at the FLHS Gym as a visiting parent and, the shock and utter disgust by other visiting parents was very apparent. Let's put aside politics, personal agendas or blame at this point and figure out a way to get this fixed as quickly and economically as possible. Our kids are owed facilities they can be proud of let alone be safe at! Surrounding schools have fantastic facilities and I can personally tell you that North Bergen (full disclosure, I am a graduate) has a gym that is on par with most collegiate facilities. The floor is resurfaced annually, the bleachers are clean and comfortable and attending events there for a fan is a fantastic experience so I can only imagine the feeling the athletes have competing there. There is a lot of talk about Transparency and Communication, I propose we move this down on the list of issues our District has and make directing budgeted school funds to projects that improve the education experience for our children in safe, clean and state-of-the-art facilities!
Concerned Alumni October 29, 2012 at 02:33 PM
Howard, thank you very much for writing this article and trying to shed some light on the deplorable condition of the Fort Lee High School Gym. I am in the unique situation of being both an Alumni of Fort Lee High School (1998 Graduate) and also a current opposing boys basketball coach in a neighboring town. When the team that I coach returned to play @ FL last season, seeing the gym in the condition that it was in was very disappointing. As an Alumni, I was surprised to see that the appearance of the gym looked exactly like it did when I graduated in 1998. As a coach, the condition of the gym floor seemed unsafe. Many players from both teams were slipping all over the place. Following our game I decided to write an email to the AD at the time. The email was dated: March 7, 2012. Below is an excerpt to the email I wrote (I never got a response). "As Alumni, I was a little disappointed in the appearance of the gym. When you walked in it seemed a little run down, dated and dark. As Alumni, I was just wondering if there was a plan in place to update the gym area, locker rooms, or coaches offices? I know that there is a referendum within town, but didn't know if the gym area was included in this. I understand if you cannot tell me anything, but just felt the need to voice my opinion." "Please let me know if you ever need someone to help get in touch with Alumni, or if I can do anything else. Please don't hesitate to ask, I would be more than happy to help."
Frank Leone October 29, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Frank Leone I graduated back in 1958 and played basketball for the school and over the many years since, I have visited many Bergen County and Passaic County gyms. The present varsity basketball coach of Fort Lee High School, Johm Ziemba played for my team in the late 1980's in tournaments in the area. I recently organized a tribute in honor of past principal and coach Frank Raimondo and had the opportunity to be in the gym just last September. I was amaized and shocked to see the disrepair of our gym and locker rooms. What a disgrace! How in the world could this happen. I am also a member of the Fort Lee Education Foundation and voiced my opinion to our group as we all have a vested interest in our school's appearence as well as the education afforded the students. Holes in the walls, beaches not steady, gym floor needs total painting and refinishing, locker rooms updated, Hall of Fames name banner in terrible shape and I could go on and on. Let the powers to be get their act together and fix up all that's needs to be done. It's about time!
John Mccarthy October 29, 2012 at 06:23 PM
I have been coming to basketball games at Ft. Lee ever since Coach Ziemba arrived..He played for me at Montclair State...From day one my comment to him has always been the same..." It's like playing at night with no lights in a rec center." As a teacher/coach for nearly 40 years, I can honestly say that the Ft. Lee gym is the worst I've been in, not even close. I've also had the misfortune of being in the lockerroom. Disgraceful, unsanitary conditions... I know that budgets are tight everywhere in NJ...However, it's time to gut the gym and renovate it , along with the lockerrooms. First off, the kids and the coaches deserve it. I've always found the fans to be passionate and the school personnel to be cordial. As an outsider I don't get to see your school play, your Honor Society inductions etc. I, and many others, only get to see you gym..Is this the representation of your school to visitors that you want to project? It's all we have to go on. What does it sat to your student athletes? To me, it says we really don't care about you. I'm sure you don't mean that, but like it or not, that's the message they're getting. My suggestion is that you make a public statement that you have heard the voices of your community and you pledge to do whatever it takes to ammend the situation, starting today!
Concerned Coach October 29, 2012 at 06:29 PM
As a Head Coach at a rival school, I can only agree 100% with this article. We have had numerous outstanding games vs Fort Lee in recent years, and in each I can vividly recall a slip or an unexpected fall based on the court being too slippery. This is unsafe and obviously impossible to predict, which isnt fair to the young men and women who put in many hours to represent the community and a school with such storied athletic programs. The entire gym floor needs to be sanded all the way to its original floor and then properly refinished to ensure SAFETY...which if I recall is one of the the most important duties a school district must provide its students!!! I also must agree with the facilities appearance lacking as well. In an era where many fans travel to see games, the gym's appearance certainly could use an upgrade. I am sure the BOE is concerned with what people think, and they probably wouldnt like what opponents family, friends, etc say about their facility.
Howard L. Pearl November 11, 2012 at 03:31 PM
There is a BOE meeting at 8 PM, Monday at FL High School. Students & concerned community members are invited to support the case for a new gym. Follow updates on www.twitter.com, pearlsofwisdm14.
Paul November 13, 2012 at 04:08 AM
For those interested, at tonight's BOE meeting it was announced that during the summer break they will be overhauling the gyms. A few students spoke on the subject and Cheryl the business administrator said that the plans for this capital improvement is in the final stages before being voted on.
Tracy November 16, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I agree, the gym has been embarrassing for years.....it neded to be done ten years ago. This renovation project is not new though, it has been planned to be fixed for quite some time....but that is typical, it takes ft lee 12-18 month to execute. Good job to highlight this H!


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