NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. announced Jan. 27 that the project to create the Ronald L. Rice Sports Complex in Vailsburg Park in Newark is complete. Named for the retired state senator from the 28th Legislative District, the modern facilities at the complex will be the home fields for the Essex County Schools of Technology athletic teams as well as be open to the public.
“The upgrades in Vailsburg Park will provide our student-athletes from the Essex County Donald Payne School and our Schools of Technology District with modern facilities to practice and play their games, as well as giving youth recreation, local sports programs and residents of all ages state-of-the-art fields to use,” DiVincenzo said. “I want to thank our schools of technology district for partnering with us to make these improvements. This complex is an example of what we can accomplish to benefit our students and the community when we combine our resources.
“Naming this sports complex after Sen. Rice is the right thing to do. Ron has been a strong and tireless advocate for his constituents, the city of Newark and Essex County. He was a trailblazer and icon who shined the light on inequality and injustice and did not compromise his ideals or principles,” DiVincenzo continued. “We have named buildings and fields after people who made a positive difference in our community and Ron definitely is one of those people. To name this sports complex that is in the heart of his district is a fitting and lasting tribute.”
After representing the 28th Legislative District for 35 years, Rice announced his retirement in August 2022. On Oct. 14, 2022, DiVincenzo dedicated the sports complex in Rice’s honor. Rice is the longest serving black lawmaker in New Jersey history and previously served 18 years as chairperson of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. Rice has been a strong advocate for social justice issues and supported the construction of recreational facilities in urban areas as a way to lift blighted communities. He backed clean energy for neighborhoods planted atop superfund sites and was a torchbearer for boosting diversity in law enforcement.
Before being elected as a state senator, he was deputy mayor of Newark for four years, a Newark city councilman for 16 years, a Newark police detective for eight years and served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of sergeant.
The project included replacing four Little League baseball fields with a football/soccer field, rubberized running track, baseball field, Little League/softball field and a basketball court. The football/soccer field, baseball field and softball field have synthetic grass surfaces and sports lighting to maximize use of the facilities. The fields have benches for spectators. In addition, the wrought-iron fence along the Oraton Parkway side of the park was moved in about 8 feet and a new sidewalk and guardrail were installed to enhance pedestrian safety.
French and Parrello, from Wall, received a professional services contract to design the park improvements. Applied Landscape Technologies, from Montville, was awarded a publicly bid contract for $7,541,723 to perform the construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project. The improvements were funded through the Essex County capital budget and with a $3.5 million grant from the Essex County Schools of Technology District. Work started in May 2022 and was completed in just seven months.