HIGHTSTOWN: Eagle Scout’s stage project gets approval

Scouts showcase solidarity for borough teenager

By Jen Samuel, Managing Editor
   HIGHTSTOWN — Ryan Lanphear, 17, was all smiles after the Borough Council unanimously approved his Eagle Scout project to build a community stage at Association Park.
   Prior to the vote, Councilwoman Selena Bibens said, “I am 100 percent behind this,” which caused a roaring applause from the audience.
   Ryan, a Hightstown resident, had been working for approximately a year to get his Eagle Scout project underway to build the community stage, as previously reported in the Herald.
   ”When I saw the designs of the bandstand I thought this is really neat,” said Councilwoman Lynne Woods. “It still leaves so much open space in that park.”
   She continued, “I am also for this project,” and noted that the design was historic.
   Councilwoman Susan Bluth said she was “leaning toward voting no, based upon an inundation of emails I received over the weekend.” However, she said, “I was thoroughly won over.”
   ”We all got lots of emails,” said Councilman Robert Thibault. Yet, he said, “I just can’t see the addition of this creating more distribution and more noise.”
   He said that 99 percent of the time the stage would be a place of “quiet use.”
   The councilman said that it is “lovely on spring days to go sneak a kiss under the gazebo,” which caused stirring laughter and cheers within the audience.
   ”I can see people going to the park to get their wedding pictures,” Councilman Thibault said. Further, “If there is a noise problem we have ordinances against that.”
   Council President Lawrence Quattrone, who noted he has been on council for 13 years, said, “(The) park belongs to the community — it doesn’t belong to any one (person).” He is running to keep his seat in November. This year there are two three-year council seats up.
   And in response to some members of the public telling council many scouts take their Eagle Scout projects to East Windsor because it is easier to get them approved, Council President Quattrone said to Ryan, “Thank you for not going to East Windsor.”
   He continued, “It looks like you have a lot of support here to help you build . . . I do support it. I supported it from day one,” at which time the crowd erupted in applause.
   Ryan is a member of Boy Scout Troop 59 and will enter into his senior year at Hightstown High School this fall.
   Approximately 130 people attended the council meeting, which included at least a dozen scouts dressed in uniform in support of Ryan.
   Ryan’s mother, Jeannine Lanphear, said after the vote that she was “so relived.” Had the council voted against the project, Ryan’s chances of earning his eagle badge, the highest level of achievement in Boy Scouts, would have been in jeopardy, as the project must be completed by November and before Ryan turns 18.
   At the July 9 Planning Board meeting, residents, including Denny Hansen, a Republican candidate for Borough Council, and Councilwoman Gail Doran, who is running to keep her seat in November’s general election, opposed Ryan’s plan to build the stage as proposed. Both women live near Association Park.
   Councilwoman Doran serves as the Borough Council’s liaison to the Planning Board and she recused herself from debating the Eagle Scout project at Monday’s Borough Council meeting.
   Additionally, Hightstown Mayor Steven Kirson said at the Planning Board meeting last week that he was unsure if the project would be approved due to the concerns raised by residents who live near Association Park.
   However, Ryan’s supporters won the council over.
   ”We were really worried,” Ms. Lanphear told the Herald outside of the meeting. Of those who came to support her son, she said, “The support was just phenomenal.”
   She continued, “This was never meant to divide the town.”
   Some residents spoke against Ryan’s project on Monday.
   ”Association Park was never attended to be the center of the town,” Janice Carson said, who lives on Park Avenue. “But that is what it will become.”
   She also said that Ryan’s Eagle Scout deadline should not “take precedent over the future of the Borough of Hightstown.”
   Sandy Bontempo, a former secretary of the Parks and Recreation Commission, also spoke out against the project.
   ”It’s not against the Boy Scouts,” Ms. Bontempo said. “It’s against the process.”
   Later on in the meeting Councilwoman Bibens said that the process had been open. It was also mentioned by others that Ryan had showcased the project at 14 municipal meetings over the past year.
   Still, Ms. Bontempo said, “The neighbors are concerned because it is a neighborhood park.”
   After the meeting, Eagle Scout Mike Brooks, of Troop 59, told the Herald, “It’s for the community.”
   ”He deserves to be able to do his project,” said Boy Scout Tom Brooks of Troop 87. “It’s for everyone.”
   The first people to speak on behalf of Ryan were Patrick Duncan, chair of the Hightstown Parks and Recreation Commission, and the organization’s secretary Beverly Asselstine.
   As previously reported, the cost to build the stage is approximately $11,550, a figure that does not include the installation of a handicap accessible ramp. Noteworthy, $10,000 will be funded through money raised during the borough’s annual Triathlon.
   Mr. Duncan said that in September 2011 Ryan first presented his project to the Borough Council.
   ”He mapped out a couple of different options for plans that might work in Association Park,” Mr. Duncan said, noting that, although the placement of the stage had been moved slightly, it was conceptually the same plan.
   Mr. Duncan addressed three suggestions from the Planning Board, which came with its recommendation of the project last week.
   First, regarding who is going to use the stage, Mr. Duncan said that there has been a longstanding application process required for park usage.
   Second, he said, as for public safety, Police Director James Le Tellier’s preference was for the stage to be built at Association Park rather than Memorial Park.
   Advocates against the Eagle Scout project last week suggested that the stage be built at Memorial Park.
   However, it was noted at the meeting by officials that Memorial Park is in a flood zone and that also the sewer lines that run beneath its open space would be problematic.
   The last issue Mr. Duncan addressed was whether there was a maintenance plan for the gazebo given that “Public Works is stretched pretty thing at the moment.”
   At that point, Ms. Asselstine explained to the council a longstanding history of community volunteerism from residents and a myriad of local scouting groups who have helped, for years, to cleanup Hightstown’s parks.
   George Chen, a construction official for Hightstown, presented a miniature scale he created of the stage, which was passed around the room.
   Mr. Chen said Ryan’s stage would take up 0.3 percent of Association Park.
   ”This is not really that big of a stage,” he said.
   He continued, “It is not going to look out of place (near trees).”
   He also noted that there were “elements in the design that help to reduce the size of the gazebo.”
   Mr. Chen said that the stage would likely be showcased on the borough’s website and added, “Everyone would have pride to have a gazebo like this.”
   In conclusion, Mr. Chen said, “This is a once in a lifetime chance . . . It would be a shame to let it slip (away) by denying it.” His statement was followed by cheers and strong applause from the public.
   ”I strongly encourage everybody — the council — to support this,” said resident Marty Crabtree.
   Pondered Jackie Hart, of Hightstown, “I wonder if this community knows what message you are sending to the children of this community.”
   She said if the scouts see this kind of “criticism and resistance . . . they will go right down the street to East Windsor.”
   Ms. Hart continued, “If you deny Ryan this opportunity, you are making a grave mistake for working with the scout community.”
   Said resident Michael Moore, who spoke in support of the project, “This exemplifies everything we are shooting for — this is small town America.”
   The committee chairman of Troop 59, David Patton, said that Ryan’s project demonstrated a scout’s leadership skills and that Ryan had proven himself as an exceptional leader during this process.
   Former Eagle Scout Bernard “Buck” Stella, who owns Hights Electric Motor Service Inc., 156 Stockton St., commended Ryan for his commitment and compassion to Hightstown.
   ”I thank you on behalf of Hightstown residents and business professionals,” Mr. Stella said.
   ”This gazebo would help utilize this piece of ground that is central,” said Pastor Heidi Bak, of the First United Methodist Church Hightstown, in reference to Association Park.
   ”We’re Hightstown and we want to support Hightstown and not go to East Windsor because they have a little stage,” Pastor Bak said.
   Noteworthy, she told the council that her church would be offering its parking lot for public usage during future events at Association Park — to help Ryan and the borough. She then received a thunderous round of applause from Ryan’s supporters.
   Scout leader and East Windsor resident Pam Parker, of Cub Scout Pack 53, said her troop would commit to providing additional help for clean up at the park.
   ”We will take on that responsibility as a pack,” she said.
   Said resident Scott Castor, “I really have lost empathy for the neighborhood,” in reference to only a few residents who live near Association Park showing up on Monday to voice their concerns.
   Of Ryan, he said, “I have a lot of empathy and support for the Eagle Scout project that he is offering.”
   Then Mr. Castor said, “I declare my 100 percent support for Eagle Scout to be Ryan,” at which time the crowd cheered.
   ”He approached this with a heart of gold,” Ms. Lanphear said of her son. “It’s just been phenomenal. (Ryan) has been a great kid. He has stood up for the people and the people have stood up for him.”