Towns each receive $150K grant for park improvements

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County has awarded $3.15 million in Local Aid grants to 21 municipalities in Essex County, with each town receiving $150,000. The funds came from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund and will be used to improve municipal playgrounds, recreation and athletic facilities, community swimming pools and parks infrastructure. This is the sixth round of grant funding Essex County has provided to the municipalities from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund since 2003.

“I am pleased to partner with our municipalities and the trust fund to modernize athletic fields, create skate parks, upgrade community pool infrastructure, restore public gardens, build playgrounds, stabilize waterways and acquire open space, to name just a few of the projects funded by this program through the years. These improvements have kept our parks up-to-date and enabled our open spaces to meet the changing needs and growing demands of our residents,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said in a press statement. “When the 2020 application process for the Local Aid Program began last year, the coronavirus was not even on our radar. Now, as restrictions are being lifted and we return to a new normal, our parks and recreation spaces will have an even greater role than before. Families breaking free of stay-at-home orders will be looking for outlets, and the construction contracts that will be awarded will help jump-start the economy and create jobs, just as we did with the program in 2009 after the Great Recession.”

Belleville will use its $150,000 grant to improve the Fairway Park Complex, a property that includes a parking area, playground, two ballfields and a basketball court. According to Belleville Green Team coordinator Gabrielle Bennett-Meany, the ballfields are used by the town’s Recreation Department for its popular baseball and softball program, and this grant “will be invested in enhancements to improve the ballfields for both safety and support of athletic programs.”

In addition to the upgrades, a dog park and community garden are being planned, as long as these new elements can fit into the space. The township has limited parks for outdoor recreational and athletic opportunities and has aging playgrounds. There are a few projects forthcoming to address this, but for now the focus is to utilize funding at the Fairway site,” Bennett-Meany said on Aug. 16. “We are incredibly proud to be able to make these critical improvements to the Fairway Park Complex, so no matter where you live in Belleville you can visit and enjoy this place.”

Bloomfield plans to use the grant funding to improve the tennis and pickleball courts at Memorial Park.

“A complete renovation of the Memorial Park tennis courts is currently being planned, thanks to a $150,000 grant from the county, as well as additional funds from our community development block grant,” Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said on Aug. 17. “Our tennis/pickleball courts are used on a daily basis and it is important that our residents have high-quality courts to use. We plan to construct the courts using a construction method that will increase the lifespan of the courts as well as the experience for our residents. This demonstrates our commitment to providing the best possible recreational facilities for our residents and park visitors.”

East Orange will use the funds to fix up the playground at Columbian Park.

“Columbian Park has been out of commission since vandalism destroyed its playground equipment almost a decade ago. Since then, the city of East Orange has been actively seeking funding to rebuild and comprehensively upgrade this park, which is the only one located in the 5th Ward,” city spokesperson Connie Jackson said on Aug. 16.

According to Jackson, the entire park project costs are $4.6 million, and this grant from Essex County Open Space will supplement funding from a New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Grant, along with matching funds from the city itself, to bring this park back into service. The grant money from Essex County will specifically be used to rebuild an ADA-accessible playground that will allow all of the city’s youth to participate in healthy and inclusive park play. 

“We are extremely enthusiastic about being able to start much-needed construction in this park, which has been out of commission for far too long. This park is located near the newest state-of-the-art school to come online — the Sheila Y. Oliver Academy — so the timing is perfect for a rebirth in this area,” East Orange Mayor Ted Green said on Aug. 16. “Under the leadership of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, dynamic accessible open spaces are always at the forefront of improving the quality of life for our residents. We are excited to provide the youth in our community with another safe place that promotes both their physical, mental and social well-being.” 

In Glen Ridge, the funding will be used to reinvigorate Hurrell Field, specifically the sports track.

“As the sports track at Hurrell Field is beyond repair, Glen Ridge will use the Open Space Trust Fund grant to completely replace the existing track with a quarter-mile, all-weather track,” Glen Ridge Mayor Stuart Patrick said on Aug. 16. “The borough, which is the home to the annual Ashenfelter 8K classic, Fitzgerald’s 1928 5K Lager Run, and Tom Fleming and Nipper mile races, has a great number of residents who run/jog on a regular basis. This new track will give them the option of either running on the borough streets or on a more safe track.”

The $150,000 going to Maplewood will be used to repair the Civic House Bridge in Memorial Park.

“We plan to leverage the money to restore the bridge to its original condition,” Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee said on Aug. 14. “Grants like this means that the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund understands our position regarding the importance of our parks, and, for that, it is appreciated. This grant helps us move forward with our continuing aim to enhance the beautification of our parks. I want to thank everyone from the township who contributed.”

In Nutley, the funding will be used for part of a larger project to renovate the band shelter at Glotzbach Park.

We were fortunate to receive $548,370 in a grant and $182,790 in a low-interest loan for a total of $731,160. We received bids and the low bidder came in at $669,380,” Nutley Mayor Mauro Tucci said on Aug. 18. “The band shell is being funded through the Essex County Open Space Trust Fund in the amount of $150,000. The construction site will be at Father Glotzbach Park, between the soccer field and girls softball field. Seating capacity is expected to be 500.”

South Orange will use the grant to improve Carter Park, though it is still unclear exactly what the village will do to the park.

“Carter Park is located in the Seton Village section of town, and there are numerous improvements that are coming down the pipeline to this area so this added money to improve the park is spectacular,” village President Sheena Collum said on Aug. 18. “I, along with Trustee Summer Jones, met via Zoom with over 20 residents of the immediate vicinity to discuss what options they would like to see, and now we’re awaiting their recommendations.

“This amount of money is equivalent to roughly half a percentage point in what would otherwise need to be levied on taxpayers,” Collum continued. “Grants are instrumental, both now and into the future, in affording us ways to provide value to our residents on projects that are otherwise not budgeted for.”

In West Orange, the $150,000 will go toward fixing up the softball field in Degnan Park, near the high school.

“The plan is to replace the playing field with turf. This will provide some flexibility to all the programs that use the field — Little League, 50-70, as well as girls softball,” West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi said on Aug. 16. “The township is grateful for any grant funding. It helps to fund the important programs and facility improvements that residents count on.”

Additionally, Irvington has received a grant to renovate the pools at Orange Park and Orange has received a grant to improve the pool at Colgate Park. Neither mayor responded to requests for comment by press time.

Each of the 22 municipalities in Essex County was eligible to receive a $150,000 grant to help fund a local parks improvement project. These awards are outright grants; the municipalities did not have to provide matching funds. Essex Fells did not submit an application for funding.