Town and school officials in Kearny appeared to be edging toward an agreement for a new basketball court the town is proposing for the Washington School playground.
The town plans to pay for that new half-court by packaging it as part of a $1.3 million bond ordinance it introduced June 9 and hoped to adopt July 14.
That bond would also finance improvements at Hickory St. Playground (owned by the Board of Education but maintained by the town), turfing of Veterans’ Field and creating a dog park at Riverbank Park. It does not itemize the cost of each project.
At a special meeting of the Board of Education held last Wednesday, July 8, four members of the Town Council – First Ward representatives Albino Cardoso and Marytrine DeCastro and Fourth Ward representatives Susan McCurrie and Michael Landy – outlined plans for the Pettigrew Playground at Washington School.
Essentially, the town wants to expand part of the playground area to include a halfcourt basketball surface facing Highland Ave. that school children could use during the day and that would be open to neighborhood kids later.
School trustees had these reservations:
Because Washington School now contains only grades k to 6, those kids are not old enough to use the court which would, therefore, only be used by an older crowd during nonschool hours, thereby creating security and liability issues. The town has pledged to install security cameras and already bears the legal responsibility for handling any accident claims. It also plans to install new playground equipment.
Additionally, school staff fear the proposed playground reconfiguration and shifting of the driveway to accommodate the new hoops court would create a “blind spot” for school bus drivers entering and departing the Highland Ave. lot so staff are proposing that the new driveway curb cut be moved further north to avoid that predicament, which the town apparently finds an acceptable solution.
In defense of the proposed court, Landy, liaison to the Kearny Recreation Commission, told The Observer that, “People have been complaining that basketball courts have been disappearing in town. This is our attempt to get one back.”
As for the Hickory St. play facility, the town is proposing a slight expansion of the basketball court, new swings and play equipment for ages 5 to 12, installation of a new fence and gate, a walking path and more benches facing the senior building.
Michael Kervel, a resident of Forest St., which borders the park, griped about unsanitary conditions at the play space. “I take my grandchildren, ages 6 and 3, down there and it’s a dump,” Michael said, adding that while the town’s public works crews do pick up trash from outside the playground, the interior “is just a junkyard.” Kervel’s wife, Donna, said that the Thursday prior, “the summer youth girls came down and picked up bottles and cans.” Aside from the filth, Michael wondered “how many more years” will it take for the town to replace the play equipment that has been removed?
Landy agreed that a general fix-up is warranted. “Because it was in disrepair, nobody took care of it,” he said. “When they took the poles for the old swing set out, they left holes 1-inch-deep and 2-inches-wide in the asphalt.”
Asked his assessment of where things stood after the meeting, BOE President James Doran Jr. said: “Personally, I think [the council members] explained things very well. … The issue we faced was communication. On Feb. 13, the town came up with the concepts for the improvements and the board approved them but the town was supposed to come back with the actual plans but they never did.”
At this point, Doran said he was relying on the town to deliver a set of plans for the board’s facilities committee to review this week and then, he added, “we’ll bring it to the full board at our next meeting on July 27.”
Mayor Alberto Santos, an interested spectator at the meeting, told The Observer that, “Based on what I’ve heard tonight, there seems to be a general understanding by the school board of our need for improvements at both playgrounds and that we need to get it done this year.”
If the council passes the bond ordinance and if the state Local Finance Board signs off on it, then the expectation is that the town can authorize bids for the work next month and award the contract in September, he said.