Watchung School Parents Want Playground Saved (VIDEO)

Back in April 2019, Watchung Elementary School parents were concerned about the Watchung Field project, a $1.3 million proposed field expansion plan, that would make Watchung’s playground the smallest play space of the town’s six elementary schools and create an unsafe space. Then the project was then put on hold.

Watchung School parents planned a protest after learning that construction on the field was to start June 1; now the project has been postponed again. Parents want answers regarding what remains an unclear plan for the future of the playground and a proposed field expansion plan that would take away 70 feet from the playground instead of the 30 feet originally needed for the field to be in varsity compliance.

“The most glaring inaccuracy is that the project will only lengthen the field by 30 feet and that Watchung parents are simply being territorial and obstructionist. None of this is true,” says Watchung parent Henry Neff, who created a video above explaining the impact of the proposed plan.

The current plans will extend the athletic field by 70 feet and that 70 feet is 40 feet more than the district requires for the field to meet varsity field-size regulations, says Neff. That extra 40 feet will take a significant amlunt of play space away from elementary school students.

Neff says the Watchung Playground Committee has never opposed renovating Watchung Field or extending it by 30 feet to make it varsity-compliant.

“What we oppose is the town taking that additional and completely unnecessary 40 feet. The impact is devastating and would leave the elementary students with a small, very narrow strip of real estate that is wildly impractical and raises a slew of safety concerns,” he says.

Neff said the group had a call with Dr. Ponds and the athletic director, Dr. PJ Scarpello. According to Neff, Scarpello and Ponds seemed surprised to learn about the additional 40 foot increase and were not looking at the official plans from the architect.

“Someone – for reasons we do not know – designed a field that’s way too big and the town appears willing to double down on this mistake even though it will completely wipe out an elementary school’s only playground in the process,” says Neff. “What we are proposing will still get the athletic department the new and properly sized field they require while ensuring the elementary school kids still have enough space for a safe playground that meets their needs. It’s a solution that actually gives the sports teams everything they’re asking for— they’ll just have to wait a little longer so the plans can be redrawn and bids resubmitted.”

Another concern, says Neff, is that when the field expansion plan was approved, there was no plan or budget designated to replace the playground they intended to remove.

Neff said he asked Montclair Schools Business Manager Emidio D’Andrea in April 2019 to see the plan and budget for the replacement playground, but he couldn’t show him one.

Two years later, Neff says he still hasn’t seen a complete playground design (one that includes equipment, shade solutions to replace all of the shade trees that will vanish, play surface, etc.) or a budget.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I just love the BoE’s choices. Absolutely no responsibility for the bad or questionable ones and they often blame their predecessors. A part-time organization lacking institutional memory or strategy continuity. An elected version of the Board will not likely change this.

    The Central Office does not create 3rd-party partnership agreements. The BoE does. So when you renew these agreements this month, or next, maybe give it an ounce of thought. Or not.

    Mr Neff,

    You might want to add a dermatologist to your advisory group to review the Universal school playground plans. Or not.

  2. I appreciate that Mr Neff is aware of TeamUp Montclair (TUM), but others likely are not. TUM gave an interesting high-level overview to the BoE on May 1, 2019…6 months after, not before, the BoE signed their MoU with them. Anyway, go watch the video on the District’s site under BoE/Video/May 1, 2019. Presentation starts at 18:40 mark. So many takeaways – like the Montclair United Soccer association and the soccer field requirements.

    I personally like the statements TUM represents the residents of Montclair. And they now have an MoU that says so. Even better, they were offered a seat at the BoE’s monthly Facilities sub-committee meetings. To provide the Montclair residents input. A seat at the table. Don’t we all want a seat at the table for the big issues?

    I definitely intend to ask the Council…and the Planning Board…if I can have a seat on the Council’s Redevelopment Committee and the PB’s Zoning Committee. See, these meeting are not open to the public and their are no minutes published. I promise to be a supportive partner and I promise to represent the residents of Montclair. I would love a seat at those tables.

    Lastly, I can’t wait to see this Board address the $1.4MM Watchung Field renovation issues in light of their revised Field Rental Fees & Policies. And the signage policy for the field?

  3. Now I read construction starts in 40 hours.

    I just love our Board of Education. They truly represent the residents!

    Mayor Spiller must be so darn proud of his appointees. After all, he does want a vote on an elected school board. Perfect choices.

  4. Now some well-earned shade for the Central Office.. along with more for the wonderful BoE.

    I reviewed the “Site Plan” the district posted on their web site today. Any of our land use people should take a look at it for kicks & giggles.

    Site plans usually include a scale line. Site plans usually show property lines. Site plans usually denote existing v. new or moved features. I would say this is a cropped section of the full site plan, but that doesn’t explain the lack of property lines. This is a red flag because the adjacent lot is Township property.

    I also think the Parking Utility screwed up and it is going to cost us $2,400-2,800/yr.
    I’m thinking you are encroaching and will need to get an RoW easement approved by the Council.

    What I am really thinking, big picture, are the taxpayers crazy to give the MPSD $60MM of capital?

  5. The shade will help the new field. Buy some dodgecoin Frank and leverage up on investing in Montclair futures. The sewer utility is still doing quite well and $5400 a year will help defray the RoE on the bivouack shelf disassembler. Capital ideas here, so sorry the Blue Origin capsule is full. Move forward and upward!

  6. FYI, Beyond your first sentence, I had to Google the rest.

    I will say this seems like karma for Watchung School parents who have a long-standing reputation for working back-channels and back rooms. I assume this was a fringe protest group that had to go public.

    I understood that K-5 was a critical part of early child development, including legally required outdoor activity. Apparently, the State thinks outdoor activity is important. It certainly helps to combat early childhood obesity, offer freeform creativity opportunities, and if desired, foster teamwork, etc.etc.

    Last century, the Montclair school playgrounds had areas (dirt, grass & always some asphalt-covered) where you could run in a straight-line for 100-200 ft. If you wanted. Sometimes, we even had something called foot races. We even regularly mixed genders on our teams. Sometimes we even used our own creative and organizational skills to make up an activity – or even to show-off particular skills.

    I’m old, I see none of that with this design. Of course, this design does remind me of the density of urban center school playgrounds. This activity space seems to be very structured and defined. Kids need that. Supervision is also easier. The good news is when these kids finally reach the high school, they will have this field to apply the skills and behavior they learned as students here.

  7. What does this have to do with Johnny Pesky? And he played baseball, was a member of the Red Sox Nation and a Croatian-American.

  8. Dr Ponds proudly announces the Watchung playground will be 2,000 square feet bigger. The playing field will be 15,000 square feet larger. The 2,600 sf ADA accessible hardscape spectator areas will be added along with 10 square feet for a Poland Spring fed :), universal human & canine water fountain. Truly amazing, if not downright magical space utilization.

    The 20′ tall, Mountie Blue & White safety netting is made from recycled plastic bottles collected from the skate park. Now, if we can just get some man-made illumination installed around the perimeter, we could have a 12 hour x 7 days athletic facility for MHS and adults.

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