Belleville fields get major $6 million facelift

Calling it “one of the best municipal projects in the state,” Belleville Mayor Michael Melham proudly discussed the project that will enable the Belleville High School facility to undergo a $6 million facelift that will not only restore three heavily used athletic fields, including the main field, known as Doc Ellis Field at Belleville Municipal Stadium, but will give Belleville a state-of-the-art eight-lane track that will enable the town to host major track and field events in the future.

“It’s the largest public project that the town has taken on,” Melham said as he overlooked the work already started on the project last week. “It’s very unique for Belleville. It’s a great relationship between the town and the Board of Education.”

The funding for the project will come from a $2 million Green Acres Fund grant, $3.5 million in low interest 20-year bonds and $500,000 from the Board of Education to install new lighting for the complex.

Just having that cooperation between the elected officials and the Board of Ed is impressive. But this project had to be a joint effort, considering that most of the land used by the high school teams is owned by the town.

The facility, under the design of Neglia Engineering of Lyndhurst, will be totally equipped with FieldTurf artificial surfaces, which will enable the fields to recover quicker after rain and snowstorms.

In the past, the fields would need days to drain and dry. Now, the teams – both from the high schools and also from Belleville Recreation leagues – will be able to play right away after inclement weather.

“We are quadrupling the amount of FieldTurf fields in town,” Melham said. “We will now have 60,000 square feet of turf fields.”

The improvements to the main facility are expected to be ready by the time that the Buccaneers play their second game of the season against rival Nutley Sept. 18.

“We promised Coach (Jermain) Johnson that he would have the field back by the time they’re expected to play,” Melham said. “We’re going to make good on that promise.”

Those improvements were well underway last week.

The improvements also include renovation to two facilities – known as the JV fields – that are basically used for practices for the high school and recreation baseball and softball league,

The other fields should be ready for the spring seasons, although the main baseball facility, George Zampini Field, will remain a grass field. The main softball facility at Carl Corino Field at Claremont School received a FieldTurf facelift last spring.

“We like grass for baseball,” said Melham, who once was a baseball star at Belleville.

Town administrator Anthony Iacono said that the improvements also include the construction of the eight-lane track, which will be ready for meets in the spring. With an eight-lane track, Belleville will now be able to host county and state meets, which will bring in revenue for both the school district and the town.

“In the past, we didn’t have a track and the other fields were basically dust bowls,” Iacono said. “It was our idea to do the application for the Green Acres funds. Once we received that, we moved ahead with the rest of the project. Our relationship with the Board of Education is excellent. Dr. (Richard) Tomko works with us. It was relatively seamless and have minimal impact on the taxpayers. I think the track is the best part of it. That’s the biggest improvement.”

Since the improvements were being made to the facility, it made sense to improve the lighting to include state-of-the-art LED lights that don’t require regular bulb changing.

Melham believes that the project, when completed, will be the talk of the entire state, for its practical use of open space and for the top shelf track facility.

“I definitely think this helps to put Belleville on the map,” Melham said. “We will have one of the only eight-lane tracks in northern New Jersey. It’s not so easy to get something like this done, because it is so well used, with kids always playing on it. But since I was a former athlete, I understand the how important it is to have the right equipment. This facility does that.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”