MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood Committeeman Greg Lembrich gave the Township Committee and the public an update on the proposed addition of basketball courts to DeHart Park at the meeting on Dec. 18, following a discussion about the topic at the Dec. 4 meeting. The Recreation Advisory Committee is now in the process of putting together formal plans to build courts at the park, Lembrich said, and the committee members agreed that they are in favor of the project.
“This is something that we’ve been discussing in some way, shape or form now for almost three years and perhaps beyond that,” Lembrich said at the Dec. 4 meeting. “We recently had the opportunity to have the Recreation Advisory Committee host two public forums and both were lightly attended, but I would say that those who attended had a lot of questions and helpful views.”
Lembrich said that, between the two meetings, members of the RAC were able to speak to neighbors surrounding DeHart Park, including those who live closest to where the courts would be. Neighbors are generally in favor of the courts aside from a few concerns and at the Dec. 4 meeting Lembrich shared feedback from the RAC.
“The committee supports the addition of a basketball court in town, specifically on the southeast side, the side that is furthest from the courts in Memorial Park,” Lembrich said. “We’re asking the township to do whatever is necessary to include the new court facility in our upcoming budget and that we aggressively seek funding through Green Acres or any other potential funding sources.”
Lembrich said that while neighbors are in favor of building new basketball courts, there is some disagreement about the location. The proposed area is the current location of the roller rink, which is used by some community groups but not consistently. The committee is looking into whether it would be possible to relocate the rink somewhere else in town.
“The Baird court facility in South Orange is what we would be basing ours on,” Lembrich said. “We would have one full-size NBA and NCAA-sized court and that would allow us to have running across the width of that main court two youth-sized courts. We would have the opportunity for a full court and for two half-sized courts.”
Using the roller rink location would also allow the township to make upgrades to the tennis courts in DeHart Park, Lembrich said. Building a brand new basketball court next to a tennis court that is in disrepair doesn’t make sense, according to the RAC, and if the same contractor is hired to do both, the township could potentially save money.
“I think we’re now at a point where our engineer and his department have done a number of drawings for us, we have gathered public comment and there have been a couple of different options that did not work,” Lembrich said. “I want to get a consensus on how we can move forward with this.”
Committeewoman Nancy Adams said at the Dec. 4 meeting that she is in favor of building the basketball courts, but wants to make sure it makes financial sense and fits into the 2019 budget.
“I’m in favor of it,” Mayor Vic DeLuca said at the meeting. “I’m in favor of it at the roller rink, and I’m also in favor of keeping the tennis court and fixing it up.”
The RAC was scheduled to give a presentation at the Dec. 18 Township Committee meeting, but decided not to because the committee was already in agreement that new basketball courts should be built. Instead, Lembrich shared updates on the process.
“The committee is urging the Township Committee to move forward with the proposal to build the basketball facility at DeHart Park,” Lembrich said at the meeting. “And the committee urges the township to consider sound-absorbing vegetation or other means of minimizing noise disruption to neighbors.”
In addition, Lembrich said the RAC is asking the township to consider pedestrian safety improvements around the park due to the expected influx of young people using the courts. Along with the courts, the township would have to include new benches, trash receptacles and signage displaying any rules in the construction plan.
“Really what we heard, particularly from some of the neighbors in the area where the court would be, was overwhelming support,” Lembrich said. “People want to see another basketball court in town, they want to see it on that side of town and they want us to move forward.”
According to Maplewood Recreation Director Melissa Mancuso, the township hopes to move quickly on this matter.
“We have a proposal out to the Open Space Trust Fund, and we have sketches and we know what we want to put there,” Mancuso told the News-Record in a Jan. 7 phone interview. “I’m hesitant to put a timeline because we don’t have official funding yet, but that usually comes around June. Then it will be weather dependent. Hopefully we can break ground on it as soon as possible.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic