Thursday, June 9, 2016

Residents Outraged Over Timing of Independence Park Playground Renovation

Newark, New Jersey: Usually, when a new project is announced at an Essex County park, county officials hold a groundbreaking ceremony before construction begins. However, that is not what has happened recently at a park in one Newark neighborhood, according to residents.

A new playground at Independence Park in Newark's East Ward is currently in the process of being installed. According to a press release from the county, the former playground was installed in 2005. The new playground designed for children ages 2 to 12 on a rubber safety surface will include traditional playground designed to look like musical instruments, handicap accessible swings, miniature zip lines, and a water mister for use during warm weather, all at a cost of $1,382,175 for the design and construction.

A ceremony was held Wednesday at the park to announce that construction on the project was already underway.

“The playground in Independence Park is one of the most heavily utilized facilities in our Parks System", said Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. in a statement, adding that "the improvements we are making will ensure that children have a safe environment and up-to-date apparatus on which to play and climb."

However, Independence Park is also one of the few parks in the Ironbound neighborhood, which is why many residents have voiced concern over the project. According to Essex County, the project is not scheduled to be completed until September, which will leave many neighborhood children without a playground to visit during the summer months.

In response to the development, and a similar project underway at nearby Riverbank Park, local resident Amy Brown launched a petition which has been signed by nearly 200 people.

"I started the petition largely because there was no visible, local notice to residents that the Independence Park playground (in addition to Riverbank) was going to be demolished and renovated just at the start of Summer", Brown told Essex County Place, adding that "the only sign was posted the day the construction started and contained no information, plan, or timeline".

Brown stated that "the lack of notice or community input for Independence Park neighbors is insulting and disrespectful", and that "several have noted that this is not the first time that Newark residents have basically been ignored in the process of planning of neighborhood capital projects". 

She added that she feels that in order to notify residents and gather input for projects, use of signage at the park, email, or social media should be used by Essex County in the future.

Essex County officials issued the following statement:

It has been an ongoing initiative of our administration to provide first-class recreation facilities throughout the Essex County Parks System. After reviewing the condition of the playgrounds in Essex County Independence Park and Essex County Riverbank Park and listening to the public about the need for upgraded facilities, we decided that a complete modernization of both locations was necessary. Unfortunately, there is never a good time to renovate our facilities, especially playgrounds. Regardless of the season, children use the equipment for recreation, socialization and competition. Understanding that the need to upgrade the playgrounds was essential, our parks conservancies partners agreed that conducting the renovations concurrently at both locations was the best course of action to protect the safety of the children and provide new apparatus as quickly as possible. In addition, the warm spring temperatures provide more ideal conditions to install the rubberized safety surface. We take each of our projects seriously, and will work with the contractors to ensure delays are avoided and expedite the work as much as possible. Banners announcing both projects have been installed at each site and, when both playgrounds are completed, we are sure they will provide children with challenging and engaging apparatus on which to play and climb for years to come.

According to Brown, "many people have noted that treating the community in this way would never fly in a more affluent town in Essex County. I find it hard to disagree."

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