This article was originally published in the NJ Municipalities December 2016 issue.
Providing adequate and usable open space for recreation is an essential component in maintaining the balance of work and life activities within your community. While at times, budgetary constraints can make this a daunting task, having a support staff that works together to provide research, ingenuity, imagination, negotiation and perseverance, is invaluable in providing viable options. In several playing fields within New Providence, we have re-worked existing recreational space to increase playability, duration and diversity of sports within the original physical profile while at the same time, decreasing overall maintenance.
Stretching the Fields
An inspection in 2008 performed by the Borough of New Providence’s Master Plan Recreation Committee revealed it was four grass fields short for its size, population and level of activity. Alternatively, three synthetic turf fields, the second of which is Oakwood Park, will help meet the needs of our community.
In 2013, we had great success re-working Hillview Field which has two baseball fields that share a common outfield with the infields positioned on a downward slope. Without any sort of drainage, stormwater runoff caused erosion and flooding, hampering the fields high level of play with constant closures for a duration of up to eight months annually. When the fields reopened for play, the damp and damaged fields made it dangerous for players and impossible for users with physical disabilities. Recognizing the importance of a safe recreational environment for their community, we budgeted $300,000 to return the fields to our residents.
Through the cooperation of our staff, consisting of Councilman Jim Madden, Councilman Rob Muñoz and Councilman Bob Robinson, Maser Consulting (Borough Engineer), and Field Turf, the synthetic turf company, we successfully developed a plan to employ synthetic turf in the infields while maintaining the outfields as natural grass. Without the danger of erosion, players, including handicapped users, can now utilize the infield to play all year round. Measures were taken to reduce excess water and control any backflow in the outfields as the new hybrid field includes drainage under the synthetic turf. Water making its way to the outfield becomes groundwater recharge and any excess is carried to nearby streams, making this tactic more environmentally friendly than the standard synthetic turf installation. Additionally, the project implemented a planting program to incorporate 50 new species of plants and trees around the fields. Through ingenuity and careful management, the project was completed at exactly $300,000 and has restored this community’s much-needed park.
This project was so successful that we are now in the process of implementing the same strategy at Oakwood Field. Oakwood offers a larger space with two levels of field area, two manmade ponds used for ice skating in winter and fishing in summer, nature trails, pavilion, basketball court, two buildings for concessions and restrooms, horseshoe pit, bocce court, canoe launch, covered picnic area with grills and playground equipment. But like Hillview, Oakwood has been plagued with downtime due to poor drainage and turf condition. The fields have inadequate layout standards and the upper field had an 8’ grade differential on the playing surface. To make it worse, a row of JCP&L high tension wires cross the property which meant specific permitting and permissions had to be obtained to build beneath the towers.
In order to extend space on the lower field, one of the two manmade ponds were removed which left space to bring the lower field up to standard. The pond will be used for skating and fishing and has taken on a third usage as a detention pond and drainage outlet.
The new lower field is completely surfaced with Field Turf synthetic and striped to accommodate 40/60 and 50/70 baseball (with portable pitcher’s mound), with additional mark-outs for softball, Little League and Babe Ruth, soccer, Lacrosse for men and women and 100-yard Pop Warner Football. Musco-level lighting has also been added.
The severity of the upper level field’s grade was lessened from approximately 8’ to about 2’ using a 7’ retaining wall. To increase its versatility, it is now being used for 50/70 and 60/90 baseball with a natural grass outfield and synthetic turf infield.
Full-out synthetic turf installation is an expensive proposition for such a large area. But it has many advantages including little in the way of maintenance: no watering, weed control, fertilizing or mowing is required. It has longevity, looks good, dries quickly after a rain storm, provides a gentler impact lessening the chance of injury, and has a softer ecological footprint. Once the drainage issues were properly addressed, it was safe to pursue a mixture of synthetic and natural turf which helped us to better balance our initial output as well as recurring maintenance costs. This combination will help ensure the fields’ future continuous usage. Overlay striping on the synthetic field accommodates each type of recreational activity and because it is painted onto the synthetic turf, it prevents striping to have to be done over and over. As with Hillview field, residents have been encouraged to utilize the synthetic turf areas to give the natural grassed areas downtime to rest in this busy recreational community. The goal from the start has been to maximize space for multi-use and once completed this will be a community complex of which we can all be proud.