Watchung Elementary Playground To Shrink in Size If Field Expansion Plan Moves Forward

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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.

Watchung parents created this graphic to show what they believe impact of field project will have on Watchung playground.

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.”

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Linda Bowers is correct. Both constituencies can be accommodated here. If people work together.

    Let’s remember that this project is really an unnecessary redo and waste of public funds after the field was first redone some years ago. Instead of smart decision-making then — to include accommodating the needs of both Watchung students AND creating a regulation size field used for competitive games — the BOE allowed the Watchung principal at the time to shorter the field length. This then non-regulation size field did not accommodate athletic competitions.

    Public dollars were not best spent originally. We could have done this project right to start — taken care of both constituencies. If so, one suspects a more maintenance, less expensive effort would be needed today.

    The last effort tied up the playground and field areas for many months due to construction delays. We have not been great here at planning and construction oversight management in the past.

    So let’s really try to work together this time. Create a plan that serves the needs of all and then implement it, timely. It’s doable.

  2. I am a long-time Watchung school parent of kids who play both rec and HS sports on Watchung School Field and a board member of the Youth Boys Lacrosse Program, a program that gets (and pays for) access to the field during non-school, daylight hours.

    Some thoughts about this topic which may not be clear from the article:

    1) I simply cannot believe that the Watchung PTA/Administration hasn’t been aware of this field project for years. I would also be surprised if this was not publicly discussed project at BOE meetings over the last several years. Of course, Watchung has had musical chairs of principals in the decade-plus we’ve been parents there, so I understand that a distant longer-term capital project like this may not have been at the top of the current administration’s list or got lost in transitions. The current crop of parents mentioned are justifiably upset about the lack of notice, but that ire may be directed at the wrong folks or not justified if the info has been out there for years. Not that it minimizes their immediate concerns, but it seems apparent to me that there’s no big conspiracy afoot to take away the playground or hurt anyone.
    2) The area charts shown in the article may be misleading. The actual play area for Watchung students should include the turf sports field – certainly, it does for the 4th and 5th graders, my son included. I know that aftercare uses the field as well for their activities. The current Principal has the key to the field and can use it at any time during the day and I know the Watchung School running club has used the field before school. I don’t know the actual acreage, but if you include the field, the new play area for Watchung remains quite large and way bigger than the .65 acre referenced in this article. The reason there is a key and lock for the field during non-school hours is to reduce the opportunity for the all-too-real instances of vandalism. Both the school and the rec programs can attest to the stolen and destroyed property when the fields have been open. During non-school daylight hours, the field is used mostly by the town rec sports programs, which are all open to all Montclair residents. Some others (like club soccer and club field hockey) rent the field from the BOE – although personally, I would prefer that that not happen and the open access rec programs get more field time.
    3) The field at Watchung School really needs to be upgraded. The benefit is not just for the thousands of Montclair kids from all of the public schools who use it for rec sports, but also for the hundreds of Watchung students who use it every single day for recess and gym. If you are upgrading the field, it makes no sense to have this small field that is not regulation size for any sport.
    4) It sounds like everyone wants to work together to come up with design solutions that make everyone happy, so can we do that and quickly?

  3. Great point Martin….and frankly the same thing has happened for the Montclair Town with the Mountainside project (take 2).

    Additionally, this article isn’t accurate…the photos block out the very field that is being proposed for improvements and suggests that the play area is smaller to start with….no debate that the field size is being increased and that is coming at the expense of the other outdoor space in the aggregate but to block the space of the field and position Watchung as a school that has the smallest play area is false. The author and supporting pictures did not block out the soccer field that exists within the foot print for Northeast school? That would be identical comparison. Also, the notion that these spaces are fenced in and not accessible is also a mistruth….in fact if one drives to many of the elementary schools, Bullock is a great example, fences exist….and are locked…why….for saftey during school…and for limitation of use….post school hours…weekends /late afternoons…you can’t get on Bullock playground/play space at say Saturday morning if you wanted to.

    Hopefully the BOE can proceed forward, do the right thing, find the right design/plan for the right size field and the right approach to a play space….which would mean the entire space would be re-newed…benefiting all of Watchung 400+ students and the entire district students and families.

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