Memorial Park Plans Move Ahead
West Caldwell Council promises to address residents' concerns over field lights; encourages residents to promote field use with school district.
Updated at 7:46 a.m. Thursday, July 19.
The West Caldwell Council unanimously passed a $1.35 million bond ordinance Tuesday to move ahead with improvements to Memorial Park, which include installing new lights at the baseball fields.
Residents in the surrounding neighborhood expressed reservations about the lights, as well as increased traffic, problems with maintaining the established 9:30 p.m. curfew, and the cost of the project.
Several council members, including Recreation Committee Chairperson Dominic Aiello, said the concerns of residents in the surrounding neighborhood, especially with the installation of lights, will be taken into consideration.
"We need the money from the ordinance to start the design, but we need to discuss the lighting plans with residents," Councilman Richard Otterbein said before casting his vote.
The original bond ordinance was for $1.5 million, but was amended to $1.35 million by removing a plan for new lights at Francisco Park.
Fairmount Road resident Bob O'Donnell, in addition to discussing his concerns about the lights, submitted a letter to the council from his neighbor, Congregation Agudath Rabbi Alan Silverstein, whose home is adjacent to the basketball courts at Memorial Park.
While Silverstein did not object to new playground equipment, he stated he opposed the installation of a regulation basketball court and the overall cost. "In a time of economic uncertainty, it is not fiscally prudent," Silverstein stated in his letter.
Silverstein suggested as an alternative installing seven-foot-high hoops for older siblings to use while young children were on the playground. He also noted the installation of lights would be "more appropriate" at James Caldwell High School, where fields are in a "larger, open area" with more parking availability.
In addition to O'Donnell, several other Fairmount Road voiced their concerns.
"I live across the street. I do not want the field lights lighting up my house," said Pat Maraviglia.
Another resident, Mitch Payne asked how the town would be able to enforce the 9:30 p.m. curfew in the park section when ball games could possibly end at 10 p.m.
Use of Bonnel Field and Other BOE Fields
Tempesta agreed with residents that the proper place for the installation of lights would be at the ball fields at James Caldwell High School.
However, Tempesta said the Caldwell-West Caldwell Board of Education (BOE) "owns and jurisdicts" the fields. "It is very frustrating. We would like to work with them," Tempesta said.
After a BOE bond referendum to install a turf at Bonnel Field was voted down several years ago, Tempesta said the Board has not revisited improvements to the fields.
"They have control over about 18 fields," Aiello said. The town has offered to work with them on improvements and to include them in their agreement for grass-cutting services but has been turned down.
While municipalities in Essex County are eligible to receive grant money for open space, funds are not available for school districts. In order to receive a grant in Nutley, Tempesta said their BOE sold the high school football field to the town for one dollar, making the township eligible for a million dollars of grant money for a turf field.
"We wanted to do this with our Board but were turned down," Tempesta said.
During closed session, the council was going to review the township’s contract with the BOE.
"We cannot make any investments. The only maintenance we are allowed to do is line the fields for games," Tempesta said.
The mayor encouraged residents to attend school board meetings to discuss more shared use of fields between the town and the district. With 58% of West Caldwell residents' total tax bill allocated to Caldwell-West Caldwell Schools, Tempesta said they are "one community."
"Collectively we have to go to the BOE. There are some golden opportunities for sharing and improving fields," he added.
However, when Mitch Payne asked the council if the ordinance could be tabled until residents spoke to the board. Aiello said in his opinion the time to make improvements to Memorial Park is now.
"I strongly believe this is the right time for investment," Aiello said. With interest rates at an all-time low and with more children involved in both recreation sports programs, as well as club sports, he said, the town is "hard pressed" for field usage.
Aiello also noted with improvements to the drainage system completed this past year at Memorial Park, adding lights would allow for additional use of the renovated fields.
As Aiello explained, with interest rates hovering below one percent, the council does believe the opportunity for investment is now.
Council President Hladik agreed with this assessment.
"We had a zero percent increase in our municipal budget this year. This included capital funds for this project," Hladik said. "We are taking on projects for improvements to our roads, public safety and water. Recreation is also a vital part of any community," he added.
Parking and Lights
When asked by O'Donnell if the town had conducted a study on the impact of traffic, Tempesta responded since the fields were already being used, the addition of lights would allow for only one extra time slot for games.
"The only traffic change would be the transition as cars enter and exit," Tempesta said.
As for the lights, Tempesta said residents would be apprised of bid specifications before decisions were made.
The ordinance also included funds for the reinstallation of lights at the tennis courts. The original lights were removed since they had become structurally unsound.
While funds have been allocated for new lights, Tempesta and several council members said demand for court time, especially at night, has decreased over the years, and they might not install lights in this portion of the park.
When O'Donnell noted there is a basketball court nearby at the Cedar Street Pool, Aiello said he is not "completely sold on a basketball court."
Instead, Aiello envisions that area of the park to be a place where seniors can congregate and play horseshoes, bocce, checkers and chess as well as picnic.
"I would like to add more green to that area," Aiello said.
In addition to the installation of lights at the baseball fields and the tennis courts, new playground equipment and a regulation basketball court, the $1.35 million bond ordinance included the following other improvements:
- Improvements to the field house to be used for indoor activities for seniors
- Installation of barbecue area, horseshoe pit and bocce court
- Installation of bleachers, dugouts, scoreboards and a batting cage at Memorial Park
- Baseball dugouts, batting cages and drainage improvements at Francisco Park
- Bleachers at EVS (Essex Valley School)
The ordinance had originally included $150,000 in funds for the installation of lights at Francisco Park. However, Aiello said the council would not consider lights at Francisco until they were first installed at Memorial Park.
Aiello said he hopes the renovations can be completed for the start of next spring's baseball season.
Correction: The bond ordinance that was passed Tuesday was for $1.35 million, not $1.5 milion.