A HISTORIC PARTNERSHIP
Last night the Town Council voted to issue up to $11.8M in bonds to bring the Edison School fields project to fruition. The project, comprised of two high school regulation size multipurpose lighted turf fields behind Edison Intermediate School, is a significant first step towards addressing our town’s field shortage, while providing improvements to the neighborhood stormwater infrastructure and a major upgrade to school facilities in a first of its kind shared service agreement with the Board Of Education.
This project is as much a stormwater management project as it is a recreation project, and is being designed to meet New Jersey’s newest state standards which will significantly improve stormwater runoff for this neighborhood that sees flooding from the Robinsons Branch of the Raritan River -- improvements that would not be possible by maintaining the existing grass fields. To receive the approval of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, stormwater runoff must be improved from current conditions and meet the state’s most updated flood protection requirements or this project cannot move forward.
Financially, this project was timed to strategically coincide with the incoming PILOT revenues anticipated from the Westfield Crossing project (expected to yield $20M over the 30-year developer agreement) which will fund the majority of the projected cost, thereby mitigating the burden on taxpayers. The $11.8M in bonds being authorized is likely more than the anticipated final project cost to ensure maximum financial flexibility so that the most environmentally sensitive materials and adequate screening landscaping for the neighbors can be considered. We also anticipate receiving some funding from grants and sponsorships. Any unused authorized funds will be repealed and not bonded, which can then be redirected to future uses – in this case, supporting concurrent grass field initiatives.
GRASS FIELDS PLAN
With the Edison Fields project moving forward, we can now pivot to improving existing grass fields since the expansion of field capacity will allow our grass fields to be adequately rested, a prerequisite for ensuring they remain well-maintained. As I announced at the May 9 Town Council meeting, to support that effort, we are dedicating the incremental $300K Westfield Crossing developer contribution to the Park Improvement Fund to support a grass field plan that will include the simultaneous assessment and implementation of designated grass playing fields, and all that it would require, to ensure they remain safe and well-maintained for our sports teams.
We plan to award a contract at an upcoming Council meeting to T&M Associates for the design and project management work, a firm that was chosen by the project review committee after a public RFP that resulted in a rigorous interview process of seven firms. We anticipate their work to be completed in the fall, at which time we will then seek to hire a construction firm in anticipation of shovels in the ground late spring/early summer of next year, in coordination with the Board of Education.
Three years after the Strategic Parks Plan was adopted, and after receiving significant input from numerous professionals and most importantly, feedback from the community, I’m thrilled that this Council is acting on the recommendations of our Recreation Commission to deliver an innovative solution that finally addresses the increasingly dire field shortage that has challenged our community for decades. This project is a benefit to our student athletes, a win for Town sports leagues, and an opportunity to improve the neighborhood stormwater infrastructure that would otherwise not be possible. I am personally most excited that this project provides the opportunity to support the expansion of girls' sports such as field hockey and flag football.
I want to thank the members of the Board of Education, as well as school and administration officials, for their support and partnership in what I hope will be the first of many shared service collaborations. I would also like to thank the members of this Town Council for their rigor and diligence in reviewing this project, the Edison neighbors who have respectfully and thoughtfully shared their concerns and suggestions which have yielded a better outcome, the Recreation Commission for their advocacy and support – especially Chair Jenn Gilman and Vice Chair Russ Howell – as well as Recreation Commission liaison Councilman Scott Katz, Recreation Director Megan Schaffer, and Town Administrator Jim Gildea for their significant efforts and commitment over the past few years to make this project possible.