By Ron Leir
A recently improved municipal playground in Kearny is currently off limits to children because of what officials characterized as a safety issue involving a play structure.
Bell Playground, on Stewart Ave., between Chestnut and Devon Sts., was ordered closed some two weeks ago but Public Works Superintendent Gerry Kerr is optimistic that it can reopen by month’s end.
In another recreation-related development, the town is reviewing several conceptual plans for the reconfiguring of the environmentallty compromised Gunnell Oval municipal recreation complex – all tied to the artificial turfing of all existing playing surfaces.
No official timetable has been set for moving ahead with any of those plans, pending a determination of how the project will be financed, according to Councilman Michael Landy, liaison to the Kearny Recreation Commission.
Landy said he was alerted about a week and a half ago to the Fourth Ward park’s shutdown due to “a broken piece of equipment.”
That’s right, said Assistant Recreation Supervisor Ralph Cattafi. “There’s structural damage and it’s not safe. We’ve had to order new parts.” He said the damage was discovered by a parks employee during a routine inspection.
Kerr elaborated, explaining that the problem was a “hairline crack in the main post” and a support clover leaf for a climbing structure which was one of the new pieces installed by the vendor GameTime some four years ago when the playground was upgraded with county Open Space Trust Fund financing.
Described by njplaygrounds. com as “a little gem snuggled in the middle of the homes of Kearny,” the new and improved Bell Playground – which previously accommodated a roller hockey rink – now features two climbing structures, one designed for pre-schoolers, the other for ages 5 and older, with slides, ladders, a rock wall and tunnel; and two swings, one for tots, the other for bigger kids.
Kerr said a replacement post has been acquired from the manufacturer and it is covered by warranty, although there will be an installation cost of about $850, while the clover leaf support was expected to be shipped by Oct. 23 from California.
“We’re not able to determine if the damage is attributable to vandalism,” said Kerr, but noted that older boys have been seen climbing on the structure, which could have compromised it.
Since the playground was closed, youths have been observed climbing the perimeter fence to get inside the play area after 4 p.m., he said.
Meanwhile, there is the Gunnell Oval to consider.
Earlier this month, some 35 representatives of youth sports groups met with various Town Council members and Michael Neglia, the town’s consulting engineer, to review various strategies for preserving – and possibly expanding – the complex off Schuyler Ave.
One scenario plotted out by Neglia proposes rearranging the several Little League fields in a clover leaf configuration “so the home plates for each field are kind of back to back to each other, and buildings with announcer booth and storage area in the middle,” said Landy.
Other plans call for the Pony League field to be moved east toward the meadows and turning the larger of the two soccer fields into the space now occupied by one of the Little League fields, he said. “The thinking is we’d get two full-size soccer fields instead of the current one and a half which we could then divide into half fields as needed.”
Another plan is to “re-do the softball area and add in a girl’s softball field,” he said.
Installing a synthetic turf surface throughout the complex “almost doubles or triples the potential playing area of the Oval,” Landy said.
The next step, Landy said, is for the council to “allow Neglia to speak with our environmental consultant about an appropriate cap for the Oval, get a price for turfing it and find a way to pay for it.”
“This is not a done deal yet,” Landy said, “but for now at least, we’re trying to get the people who are going to using these fields involved in the process of deciding how best to do this.”
While the town tries to work out a solution to all the issues, Landy said it will be trying to persuade the county to allow Kearny an extension for a $220,000 Open Space Trust Fund grant it was awarded to revamp the walking path around the Oval.
Next season at the Oval will likely see a repetition of the current situation, with two Little League fields and the smaller soccer field closed due to contamination, Landy said. Little League will continue playing at the one usable Oval field and at Veterans Field while some soccer teams will probably play at Harvey Field and elsewhere, he added.