Forgive John Donnelly and Don Veix if they celebrate a little.
Both men spent much of Thursday exchanging virtual high fives via text messages with colleagues, jubilant over the thought that finally, after years of legal wrangling, a sports stadium might finally be on the horizon for Central Bucks East High School.
"it’s a great day for the CB East community," said Donnelly, the school's head football coach. "We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but we still have a long way to go."
"I'm very pleased, but not surprised," said Veix, the father of three CB East graduates who, as a lawyer, has helped with the legal arguments in the stadium case for the past five years.
Veix said the county court decision this week that found in favor of Buckingham Township's approval of the stadium project was the last legal hurdle holding the project back.
"This is it; this is the last argument," he said, of the case filed by Jeff and Mary Bretz, who live near the high school and have been fighting the proposed stadium for years. "At this point, they have 30 days from April 19 to file an appeal with the Commonwealth Court. I would hope they wouldn’t. They’ve exhausted every conceivable possible argument they could raise."
On Tuesday, April 19, Bucks County Judge Clyde Waite detailed the "long and tortured" legal battle over the sports stadium proposed for fields near the high school on Holicong Road. He examined the Bretz' legal arguments that the township had granted waivers for the project improperly, and decided that was not the case.
"We have considered the objections to the Board’s actions and find them to be without merit; and therefore, affirm the Board’s decision," Waite wrote in the 19-page decision.
The school district first submitted plans for the stadium to the township back in 1999. After many meetings and discussions back and forth over lighting, sound, the number of seats and other details, the township finally approved the stadium plans.
Thus ensued a "serpentine" course of legal challenges, Waite said, that had the case bouncing back and forth for years.
One allegation in particular - that the board of supervisors had acted in "bad faith" - seemed to evoke a strong response from the judge.
"We have found that there were no violations of its ordinances, practices or the provisions of the Municipalities Planning Code and there is nothing in the record to suggest that the Board’s actions were purposely directed at the Bretz’s," he wrote. "It would strain credulity and common sense to conclude that the entirety of this project was designed and implemented to specifically target the Bretz’s for the infliction of harm."
While the lawyers wait to see if the Bretzes appeal further, supporters plan to regroup after this weekend's holiday to see where they stand, Veix said.
For while the legal obstacles finally may be out of the way, the local economic landscape is far different than it was when the stadium plans first were drawn up.
Facing a $7.9 million budget deficit for the upcoming school year, the Central Bucks School District has been scrambling to fill the gap. A 1.34 percent tax increase will raise some money, and the district plans to pull up to $5.3 million from its reserves, as needed.
How plans for a multi-million-dollar sports stadium would play into that mix is unclear.
But Veix said Thursday that he is optimistic.
The school board has had $2.4 million budgeted and put aside for the stadium project for years, Veix said.
"If it was invested prudently, the interest it has earned should boost the balance even higher," he said. "And the stadium committee has raised money too."
The bad economy might actually help the stadium project, Veix said, since construction bids are likely to come in lower than they would have years ago.
Bids for recent large construction projects, such as the Bucks County Courthouse in Doylestown, have indeed come in lower than had been expected.
So, too, has a current project at East.
"If you take a look at the cost of new expansion project at East, that came in way under budget, surprising even the financial people," Veix said. "So I think this will be a very affordable project; I don’t think the economy will really be an issue."
Both Veix and Donnelly praised the efforts of many people who donated their professional expertise and other support to the years-long battle to build the stadium.
"The people who should be applauded are the parents and school board members who have supported this for so long," Donnelly said. "This is a winning day for them, and everyone affiliated with it."