Playing outside on playground equipment is the highlight of the day for most elementary school children. Watchung Elementary school parents are concerned that the experience for their children would greatly diminish, if the Watchung Field project, a $1.3 million resurfacing and expansion plan, goes through.
The project has been in the planning stages for several years, but current Watchung parents are just learning about it and the impact it would have on the playground. Many have voiced displeasure and concern on the “My Child Goes To Watchung School” group on Facebook.
Parents object to the expansion of the field, with a plan that would make Watchung’s playground the smallest play space of the town’s six elementary schools, and change it to a problematic “L” shaped layout. It would also, according to parents, push the main playground area closer to the train tracks, raising concerns about danger and noise.
“There is only one place for Watchung Elementary students to play and they are being asked to sacrifice one-third of their existing outdoor play space with no plan or accommodations,” said Jonathan Bellack, a Watchung parent, at Monday’s BOE meeting. “We ask that the parents of the Watchung School be 100% fully included in the planning and discussions of how to share a finite and bound space to make sure that is equitable for elementary school students as well as the sports players.
Linda Bowers, president of Team Up Montclair, a nonprofit partner organization with the Montclair Board of Education, says the role of Team Up Montclair is to represent residents of Montclair, and to work with the Board of Education and the township to improve athletic facilities and programs for all residents.
Bowers, speaking at Monday’s BOE meeting, said the Watchung field project has been in the works for several years, but due to the timing of budget talks, and timing of passing the budget, the limitations given by the high school athletics and the school year as a whole, and the availability of vendors, the timeline of the project becomes very condensed and decisions need to be made very quickly.
She added that Montclair fields in general, which are utilized by high school athletes as well as k-8 club teams, are way past their lifespan and all have come close to or failed the GMax testing limits (an impact test that gauges safety and playability of a field). By not moving forward on field renovations this summer, says Bowers, anyone using the field is put at a greater risk for injury.
Bowers believes that if both groups work together (Watchung parents and Team Up Montclair), there is still time to come up with a plan for “a fabulous playground at Watchung within timeline outlined.”