Watchung Field Construction Begins, But Playground Questions Remain

Watchung Playground – before construction.

Construction on the Watchung Field and Playground has started, Montclair Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Ponds announced in his weekly message Friday. Dr. Ponds also shared a link to a fact sheet on the project posted to the district’s website.

Watchung parent Henry Neff, a member of the Watchung Playground Committee, said while he was disappointed in Dr. Ponds and BOE decision to move ahead with a field that is larger than necessary, the group’s focus has shifted to improving the playground and making it as good as it can possibly be given the available space and narrow configuration.

Neff also questions the calculation made on the district’s fact sheet that the new playground will be 2000 square feet larger than the existing one.

According to Neff, following Dr. Ponds’s decision, the Playground Committee made these four specific requests in writing:

1 – Commit now to a meaningful budget for the playground and overall Watchung play area that will allow for new equipment, appropriate surfacing, shade solutions, drainage, landscaping, new fencing along the train tracks as needed, etc. We ask that this budget be enough to envision creative solutions, including moving / replacing the swings, which will now be in the narrowest part of the remaining play area, and improving other parts of the remaining play area (field, basketball court, etc). We can’t help plan (or fundraise) until we know the budget.

2 – That the district hire a professional playground consultant or architect ASAP to work with Principal Krenn, the faculty, and the parents on a playground plan reflecting current best practices and informed by the needs of the district. We are happy to work with such a consultant to quickly gather feedback from the parent and faculty community. (For example, Essex County uses )

3 – That the district add a lockable gate to provide secure access to the field directly from North Fullerton. This will alleviate space collisions from routing everyone through the new, narrower playground path, and improve overall safety of the field complex with an additional egress. We know this may add some complexity to the field construction but expect it to be much less than the prior proposal around field size.

4 – Confirmation again that Watchung students will be the primary, unrestricted users of the field during the school day for recess and gym classes. There is a lot of concern among parents that once it is renovated & expanded, access to the field will be restricted. It would help for the district to make it clear that the field will always be available to Watchung students during the school day.

To date, the Playground Committee has not received a response from Dr. Ponds on any of these requests.

Principal Patrick Krenn did solicit feedback on color schemes from the group for the equipment that GameTime (a vendor) has suggested, says Neff.

There are concerns about the current plan — both the placement of slides facing south that could heat up during the day as well as equipment that seems targeted to older kids for climbing, but little to serve younger K-2 students who might need quieter spaces for sensory exploration, imaginative play, etc.

The group also has questions about the Montclair Board of Education having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Team-Up Montclair (TUM) and allowing the outsource the design and planning of a public project to a group of private individuals.

The Memorandum of Understanding between TUM and Montclair BOE states that the purpose is to enhance athletic facilities for Montclair Public School students and only MPS students, says Neff.

“I am firmly of the belief that if the district had approached this project without outsourcing the leadership to TUM there would have been a complete design and budget for the new field and playground and the field would not be larger than it needs to be for varsity sports. But that’s not what happened and we’re seeing the results play out,” says Neff.

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  1. OMG! OMG! The district is letting the parents pick the color schemes for the playground equipment? How wonderful is the district clearly relenting on such a key element. Everyone knows the district’s color palette is Mountie Blue, maybe some British Racing Green for background and of course, black and white. Which are not technically colors.

    Now I’m not stereotyping, but most guys I know should not be picking colors…even for playground equipment. They have been known to step out of their comfort zone with their athletic footwear & jerseys, but once at the local tavern, they tend to revert to form. Just look at their shoes.

    Maybe let the users pick the colors.

  2. I might add that the Watchung School Principal may be spending too much time around his students and needs to seek out more adult interactions. Whatever we all might think of the Playground Parents, I think the Principal’s appeasement offer was a little juvenile.

  3. If this wasn’t so sad, it would be funny – asking for input on colors when ignored on all the rest. Passed the construction today while on my morning bike ride. Amazing how fast the districts has moved on this. Imagine if only they would act half as quickly on the achievement gap…

  4. What is also sad is for $1.3MM, the high school will use their field for just 20 hours a week!

  5. ?
    But, you wouldn’t have a Title iV lacrosse field and Montclair United would, like 100 years ago, be forced to play at fields like Nishuane. You can’t have the Township manage the playing fields because the laws would open them up to the general public. So, we embrace entities like TUM to keep the fields private. For the 4,000th time, we are all about the Ends Justifying The Means. We don’t do spirituality.

    Priorities? In suburbia? Really? You are asking that question? Most people who moved here had to compromise. It wasn’t their first.
    By definition, shifting priorities is ancillary to one’s circumstances.

  6. $1.3M would buy a LOT of laptops for kids in school who don’t have them. Priorities.

    Every child without a laptop was provided with one during the remote school year, along with hot spots for wireless access. On to the next complaint.

  7. Ouch! Advantage MP.

    However, back to the $1.3 what were you thinking dollars. The District BA’s report to the BoE was we could put in grass for $600K to service that 20 hours a week. We will never hear the explanation from the new Board members, but it would have been nice.

    The BoE has determined that grass is detrimental to the health of children. Apparently there is dirt under the grass. This is why the Watchung School Field has it’s grass field halved. But, the BoE is comprised of part-timers and not particularly skilled. So, I am most disappointed in the Superintendent. I’m ok with him learning on the job, but honesty and integrity are not traits you learn on the job. You either bring them with you that with you or you don’t. Thankfully, June & July are the key review months for our Superintendent. While I will give him a do-over on the 2020-21 school year, I would put him on warning for the 2021-22 school year. Forget the noise, focus on reading, writing & arithmetic. It really is that simple.

  8. The real shame is that the field is only used 20 hours a week. Maybe if we developed a little bit of a “playing fields of Eton” attitude there wouldn’t be such a need for “safe spaces” at universities and students would be better prepared for the real world. Montclair has become a bubble.

  9. Uh, Montclair Public – Were those laptops the students to keep or do they have to return them? Not to mention, do the chromebooks allow the students to do anything other than Google apps? Didn’t think so on both counts. Details matter.

  10. No. no. no flipside. The brand new sys-turf doesn’t go unused after the 20 public school hours. You can rent, including all field markings, for $40/hr plus insurance.

    This is where the Board of Education’s Registered Partner, Team Up Montclair, the BoE’s designated representative of all Montclair sports enthusiasts, takes it victory lap.

    Kudos to TUM. The Board of Education? No kudos.

  11. JB,

    MP still has the advantage. It’s really great your org is helping families with tech. However, apples to apples, the school day, the school year and the role of Montclair public schools are is all well-defined..and also the limits. The school district is not responsible for putting dinner on the table. Advantage still to MP.

  12. Tell that to the 865 students who have received them from us and used them to do many and varied successful projects in addition to their school work. Tech is not dinner. It’s not about “advantage”.

  13. Uh, Bonesteel, the school district’s responsibility is to provide technology for the purposes of doing, uh, schoolwork. Give yourself all the pats on the back that you’d like, but take your baseless accusations for the purposes of advancing your anti-educator agenda elsewhere.

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