WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council approved a grant application to the Essex County Open Space Fund to make improvements to the Degnan Park softball field at its Jan. 21 meeting, applying for money to solve the drainage problems that have plagued the field for years. The resolution passed with a vote of 4-1; Councilman Joe Krakoviak cast the only opposing vote.
“This is the varsity field for girls softball,” Council President Michelle Casalino said at the meeting. “For many years they haven’t been able to use it; they had to move over to the lacrosse field, which is turf. This is something that has been needing to be done but for budget reasons couldn’t be, and now with this grant it’s an opportunity.”
Aside from the drainage problems on the field, Casalino said the recreation department wants to fix the pathway that leads to the Toby Katz Civic Center, which collects water that then sits on the ground.
“The benefit we gain if this project moves forward is that we now have an additional site for our senior programs,” Casalino said. “Part of the initiative is to expand services at the Toby Katz Civic Center for our seniors, and this would be for outside activities such as tai chi and other exercise programming.”
Business Administrator Jack Sayers said at the meeting that the grant is for $150,000, but it won’t cover all the work that Recreation Director Bill Kehoe wants to do at Degnan Park.
“This $150,000 is just part and parcel of what it’s going to cost us to do this work,” Sayers said. “This work is going to cost more than $150,000. That’s why we’re applying this grant to the field and the other issues around the field.”
Township CFO John Gross said the total cost of the project would be approximately $561,000. A scoreboard would cost $36,000, field improvements would cost $490,000 and design would cost $35,000.
“If we don’t receive this grant, we’re going to have to wait and figure out another way to get this done,” Casalino said. “This is a field that has been in major need of repair, and this is a great opportunity for us to be able to get it done.”
Included in the field improvements is shortening the outfield, which is longer than is traditional for softball. By making it smaller, more room will be given to the community garden at the civic center.
Krakoviak said he is supportive of the project, but he would have liked the Open Space and Recreation Commission to be involved in deciding where the grant money would be applied if it is awarded to the town. He is the council’s liaison to the commission.
“This is going back a long time, when my son was playing baseball locally and I was coaching, and it was a tough field to play on,” Krakoviak said at the meeting. “I sympathize with the girls softball team playing on the field. That’s not really my issue. There has been, as far as I know, no consideration for what the Open Space Committee might have suggested as alternatives to perhaps not spending all $150,000 on this project.”
Councilwoman Susan McCartney agreed, saying she was looking at the grant as a possibility for the Environmental Commission, with which she liaises.
“When a grant does come in, I think we do need to figure out some kind of format about who sees it, when they see it, if everyone sees it,” McCartney said at the meeting. “Then we can come back to discuss it.”
Councilman Jerry Guarino asked if the West Orange School District would share some of the cost of the project, since the district’s teams use the field; Casalino said the administration has set up a meeting with members of the Board of Education and Superintendent Scott Cascone to discuss it.