Once one faces east, along Schuyler Avenue at the entrance, it’s obvious instantly how much the Gunnel Oval has changed. At the front gate rests a curved red sign with the name of the recreation facility to greet you. And you just can’t help but notice the massive amounts of green from the synthetic field turf at all corners of the place.
It’s all the culmination of an enormous project to take what was becoming an outdated, dilapidated bunch of fields and turning it into a state-of-the-art, multi-purpose outdoor rec center that could be used by youngsters and adults alike – for active and passive recreation.
On Monday, April 5, Kearny Mayor Alberto G. Santos and Neglia Engineer David Silva took The Observer on a tour of the new Oval. To say the place is impressive is an understatement.
As we first began to walk around, perhaps most noticeable was how wide all of the concourses between the fields and other portions of the place were. This was done intentionally, according to Santos.
“We wanted everything to be ADA compliant,” the mayor says. “There’s plenty of room for passing from one point to another.”
The walkways lead to a completely ADA-compliant set of outdoor exercise equipment, stairs for stepping, and tension-built bars for working on arms and legs. One side of each is designed for anyone to simply sit down and get to work – but the other side has a spot where someone in a wheelchair may simply drive up and get to work without having to transfer to the bench.
We then stopped at the area near what will be a snack bar. The triangular building will also host a Wall of Honor, where plaques will mark the names of all the people for whom the fields are named.
Then, we headed to the new playground. Here, we found swings, sliding ponds, climbing bars and wheels on which to spin the kids around. It is all accompanied by a foam-like flooring which will lead to much greater safety when the children fall or have any other kind of accident.
Think of all those cuts and bruises from dirt and pebbles on older-style playgrounds. This will be no more because the entire playground area is extremely safe and modern.
And the area is huge – leaving room for a lot of children to play at one time.
The entire playground has benches along the perimeter, too, so as the kids play, mom and dad may take a quick breather when needed.
Just outside the playground – and, of course, near the snack bar, are several outdoor picnic tables where you’ll be able to bring your food to consume. You’ll even be able to bring your own provisions, especially when the snack bar is closed. Nearby are plenty of trash bins, just like the ones you’ve seen around town – the ones that are solar-operated and that don’t require touching to open (they’re equipped with foot pedals.)
After eating, there are restrooms that are all fully touchless. (Sensors will turn on sinks and flush toilets.)
Now, as we continued to walk around the Oval, Santos pointed to some of the security cameras. They’re all strategically placed – and may be remotely monitored.
“All of the cameras feed directly to Kearny Police Department Headquarters,” Santos says. “We hope they serve as a deterrent to anyone who might consider vandalism or graffiti. The Oval will be a very secure location.”
Then there’s the new, massive light towers. Every single one of them are energy-efficient and remarkably, may be controlled remotely with a mobile-phone app. This means when the lights must go on, Recreation Director Ralph Cattafi can simply turn them on from his phone from anywhere in the world. And, unlike the old lighting, they boot up substantially faster, according to Silva.
Aside from the incredibly beautiful green from the new fields, perhaps the other most stark addition to the new Oval is the red-colored regulation-size volleyball court added on. Santos says there’s been greater demand for a place to play volleyball in town and until now, the only place where it was possible was on a dirt-and-grass section in West Hudson Park.
For now, like the new basketball court, these locations will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. It will remain that way unless demand grows or if there’s ever a formation of a volleyball league. (There isn’t one right now.)
Meanwhile, the same skate part from the original Oval remains and didn’t need upgrades. It’s that new.
FLOODS HOPEFULLY NO MORE
One only needs to remember 2012 when Super Storm Sandy hit the area. The Oval was substantially damaged by flooding. But it hardly took a super storm to flood the place – even nor’easters or strong thunderstorms would put parts of the Oval under water.
No more, though, hopefully.
Two massive pumping stations are now a part of the Oval, and if rainwaters develop, Silva says it won’t take long for the pumps to engage and get the water out.
“It should take no more than nine minutes,” he says.
And depending on the water levels, it could get the water into the marshes behind the Oval even quicker.
Santos says the pumps were put to a test during a recent storm – and they worked flawlessly.
THE FIELDS OF DREAMS
It was by design we saved the best to tell you last.
All of the new fields are incredible and were made with synthetic turf. One is for Little League, another for softball, one for soccer-only and others are multi-purpose and may be used for baseball and soccer. During the planning stages, when input was sought from residents and those involved in town sports, there was debate over whether there should be more baseball fields or soccer fields.
The result was current set-up, with some being specific, others being multi-purpose.
It was a good compromise, Santos says.
“We hope everyone will be happy,” he says.
Now, because the fields are all synthetic – meaning there is no live grass, nor is there any real dirt – it will be much easier to drain storm waters and get the fields back to playable condition, much quicker than the about 24 hours it would take for fields to dry at the original Oval.
Lastly, the entire facility was raised about a foot higher than the old place. You might even notice this if you look toward the rear of the homes on East Midland Avenue, which are visible to the park’s north. This was all done to assist with the flooding and to help keep the marsh waters out when tides are high.
“We’re very happy with the project,” Santos says.
The same may be said of Silva, who says while he has enjoyed the project, he’s “glad it’s all coming to a close.”
And now, because of the fruits of the labors of all involved, the town has what may only be described as the most enviable rec facility in the area, if not all of the state.
Editor’s note: The town says the Gunnel Oval is now officially open to the public, 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to dusk. It might be open later on gamedays, but no later than 10 p.m.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.