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Monarchs feeling not at home on range

11/5/2013

By DIANE GASPER-0'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-0'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Their home openers this season are scheduled for Dec. 20.

But Thomas More Prep-Marian basketball teams won't have a home-court advantage, not in the early part of the season at least.

Following a notification Friday from the state fire marshal's office, administrators at the local Catholic junior-senior high schools started searching for alternative locations for home games for the 2013-14 season.

The school was notified by letter from the state fire marshal's office the maximum number of occupants safely allowable in the bleachers in Al Billinger Fieldhouse -- home of Monarch basketball for six-plus decades -- is 49 people, based on the location and capacity of current exits.

Gene Flax, TMP athletic director, said plans are underway for scheduling high school varsity games in the gym of the former Kennedy Middle School and most likely, the junior varsity and freshman games at Holy Family Elementary School. Most of the junior high games already were scheduled for those two buildings.

Local officials had been notified four years ago the original occupancy of 1,600 from when the fieldhouse was built in 1950 was being reduced to 860, and last year's number in an email from the SFMO was similar (850).

But in late May of this year, that occupancy number was reduced even further, to 346. Then came Friday's stunning low number of 49.

TMP has been working on possible solutions with the state fire marshal's office and the local fire marshal since May.

"We have been identifying options, but don't have drawings back from the architect yet," said Clare Gustin, chairwoman of the Catholic School Board of Trustees.

The most viable option, Gustin said, is adding a fire escape at the northwest corner of the building.

Until then, it will take some improvisation, Gustin said.

"We certainly want to protect people's safety," she said. "We're going to have some (shake-up) here in the short term, but we do have a path to the future."