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 https://www.rve.com/ )
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.