Special-needs playground coming to Watsessing Park

Photos by Daniel Jackovino
Mayor Michael Venezia referring to an exhibit of the proposed Watsessing Park project. With him, from left, councilmen Ted Gamble, Nicholas Joanow and Rich Rockwell.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A press conference heralding the construction of the first Essex County playground completely accessible to special-needs children was held at Bloomfield Town Hall on Friday, Jan. 18.
The 12,000 square-foot facility will be located in Watsessing Park between Conger Street and Troy Towers. It will have parking and sit adjacent to a new community center, as yet unbuilt. The community center will replace an antiquated building that has already been removed.

Preliminary development of the site is going on now with broken sections of pathway and park benches piled to the side as workers grade the area and insert concrete conduits underground. According to a county spokesperson, everything should be completed by September.

The press conference was called by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and included elected officials from the township and county. About 50 people attended in the Council Chamber.

Freeholder President Brendan Gill said he once lived in Bloomfield and would stroll through the park. He currently lives in Montclair.
“These improvements will be a lynchpin to the downtown area,” he said, “and part of the renaissance.”

Freeholder at large Patricia Sebold said Watsessing Park was “absolutely fantastic” and will become more heavily used with the improvements.
“I’m happy with the all-access playground,” she said. “I know it will be used by people from all over the county.”
Freeholder Carlos Pomares, District 5, a Bloomfield resident and former councilman, acknowledged current Bloomfield Councilman Ted Gamble who is a member of the Friends of the Watsessing Park Conservancy.

Among the activities sponsored by the group is an annual cleanup day at the park. Pomares said he first met Gamble a few years ago at one of these outings and was impressed by the community effort that day.

The current upgrades to the park, Pomares said, complement other township improvements: the proposed Lion Gate recreational facility, the ongoing Morris Canal greenway extension and the rehabilitation of the Collins House, a circa-1700 home along the route of the Morris Canal greenway. As a Bloomfield councilman, Pomares was instrumental in initiating a positive re-evaluation of the vanished canal route and the Collins House.
Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said an increasing downtown population will benefit from the Watsessing Park improvements which have long been requested by the conservancy.

Rendering of a children’s inclusive playground proposed for Watsessing Park, showing front and overhead views.

Gamble thanked DiVincenzo for listening to the community and the township council.
“We had concerns that we raised and this project resolves those issues,” he said.
Gamble was happy the plans included the planting of trees. He good-humoredly said the conservancy will conduct a count to make sure it gets all of them planted.

The new community center will have room for 100 people, according to its architect, Greg Comito.
“We’re not interested in putting on Band-Aids,” he said. “That’s why we’re putting in a new building.”
The center will have a kitchen and rest room facilities which will also accommodate park-users The county had been providing senior citizens with free or low-cost lunches, Monday to Friday, in the old community center. With that building demolished, lunch service has been transferred to Cedar Grove.

Comito Associates, of Newark, was awarded a $145,000 contract to design the building. It will be built by The Shauger Group, Inc., of East Orange, for $2 million. The playground was designed by Remington & Vernick Engineers, of Secaucus, for $65,000. A builder has yet to be selected.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex, thanked DiVincenzo, for starting a renaissance in Bloomfield and acknowledged Venezia for following in his footsteps. He said the county executive puts the right people together to make things happen. He motioned to the artist’s renderings behind him of the proposed community center and playground.

Rendering of a children’s inclusive playground proposed for Watsessing Park, showing front and overhead views.

“That you see these exhibits means it’s going to happen,” Caputo said. “This is a renaissance. Instead of people running out of the county, people will want to be here.”

DiVincenzo was the last to speak. He said Essex County had 22 great towns and great freeholders. Bloomfield had a great township council, too, he said, and it did not always have a one, but there has been a big change in a short time.
“The county can only do so much, it needs support,” he said.

Since becoming county executive, DiVincenzo said park conservancies have increased from one to more 50.
“We don’t want people to leave the county for recreation,” he said.
DiVincenzo, who has been Essex County executive since 2003, said he was looking forward to the next census, expecting to see the county population top 900,000.