Big tab for Oval makeover; survey next

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent


It will take an estimated $15.8 million to revamp Kearny’s Gunnell Oval recreation complex off Schuyler Ave., just north of Oakwood Ave., to the town’s specifications.

But unless the town can find outside funding sources to make that happen, it appears that at least the two environmentally compromised softball fields and soccer/T-ball field that remained off limits last summer will stay closed this season as well, forcing those leagues to scramble for alternate sites.

Michael Neglia, the town’s consulting engineer, was asked by Mayor Alberto Santos at last Tuesday’s Town Council meeting for an update on where matters stood with plans for redesigning a new configuration for the play area which accommodates Little League/ Pony League baseball, Town Recreation softball and soccer fields, a basketball court and playground and perimeter walkway, plus parking. Neglia, who has met with the various stakeholders who use the Oval to hash out how it can be improved, said that the lingering presence of snow has prevented him from undertaking a topographical survey of the lowlying site – a survey that, he said, will allow him to refine his infrastructure pricing estimates.

At this point, Neglia said he’s calculated it will cost $3 million just to bring in clean fill to raise the Oval property – which borders a section of the marshes – out of the flood plain, including $250,000 for a storm water drainage system. Neglia told The Observer that his “preliminary estimate” for the entire job is $15,815,000 and, since the amount is so large, “the job may be done in phases,” the engineer said.

“We have to remediate the entire site, remove [environmental] hot spots, do the filling and then capping it with a synthetic turf – we’re basically leveling the site,” Neglia said.

Installing artificial grass surfacing offers the opportunity to develop “multipurpose” playing areas, said Councilman Michael Landy, who chairs the council’s Recreation Committee, and to maximize use of the fields.

Santos pointed out that the numbers developed by Neglia are “only an estimate and are subject to change,” depending on the outcome of the topographical survey and a more precise routing of storm water drains.

Santos said the town’s intent was to prepare a series of applications for various funding sources for different parts of the project.

For example, he said, the town has already been approved for a Green Acres matching grant of $396,900 and a Green Acres loan of $168,250 for the synthetic turfing of one field and upgrading of the Oval’s perimeter walking/biking trail.

“The fill part of the job should be reimbursable under the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund grant program,” Santos said. Getting an HDSRF grant “allows you to start the project,” he said.

Excel Environmental Resources of North Brunswick, the town’s consultant, has found traces of hydrocarbons in a preliminary phase of soil testing and that finding led to the town shutting down the West and North Little League fields and the smaller of two soccer fields this past summer.

Because each of the potential funding programs have differently timed award cycles, it’s hard to predict how soon the town could learn when it might expect to see money coming in, assuming its applications are successful, Santos said.

Ideally, Santos said, if the town can line up a decent amount of outside revenues for the Oval project, “then we could finance the balance with bonding.” But the mayor didn’t define how much the town would need to have in hand before committing to borrowing the rest.

Once a determination is made to begin work, Neglia estimated that the job could be done within six to eight months.

The Observer Staff