BLOOMFIELD, NJ – It was another milestone day in the Township of Bloomfield as Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver were on hand this morning for the grand opening ceremony of the all access playground, new community center and on-site parking lot in Watsessing Park.
The new all access playground is the first of its kind in the Essex County Parks System to be designed for children of all physical abilities.
“I could not be more pleased than to be here today,” said Lieutenant Governor Oliver, a resident of East Orange who resides across the street from Watsessing Park. “As you know, I am the Lieutenant Governor and the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs, but at the end of each day, I am a resident of Essex County, and that’s who I am.”
The county park upgrades are part of DiVincenzo’s ongoing initiative to provide modern facilities to meet the needs of the community.
“When we modernize our playgrounds, we have always included some elements that can be used by children with limited physical abilities – but all children should have a place to play and having an all access playground will bridge the gap between mainstream children and those with handicaps, create a better understanding and foster social relationships,” DiVincenzo said.
DiVincenzo added, “this is a significant project because it introduces an attractive recreation amenity, modern community center and much needed parking that makes the park more accessible and easier to enjoy.”
Many elected officials who supported the $4M project were present for the ceremony, including Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia, members of the Township Council and Essex County Freeholders.
“The community is excited about the playground and the community center,” said Mayor Venezia. “They will be great additions to an area that is seeing a great deal of growth and economic development.”
The all access playground replaces a traditionally designed facility in the park off of Bloomfield Avenue. It features a variety of playing apparatus for children of all abilities. Handicapped children can enjoy a playground designed with their needs in mind with new swings, bridges and slides.
“It is a pleasure to partner with Joe on these types of projects,” stated Freeholder President Brendan Gill.
All equipment is in compliance with ADA and current playground codes. There is also a parking lot on-site to facilitate transportation and access to the playground.
“Watsessing Park already is heavily utilized, and I know the playground the community center will attract people from all over,” said Freeholder Patricia Sebold.
The old community center was last renovated in 2008 and has since been demolished. It is replaced with an expanded and more modern building. The structure has an enlarged room for community meetings, gatherings and events, storage rooms and modern restrooms. The restrooms are handicap accessible and larger in size to accommodate playground users and visitors to the community center.
“These additions to Watsessing Park will be a great contribution to Bloomfield and our downtown,” said Freeholder Carlos Pomares, a Bloomfield resident and former member of the Township Council.
“The all-inclusive playground is symbolic of how Watsessing Park has brought together the communities of East Orange and Bloomfield – it’s fitting that the County’s first all access playground will be here,” said Friends of Watsessing Park Vice President Ramon Jiminez.
Funding was provided from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund and with a grant from NJ Department of Community Affairs.
“Instead of people wanting to or having to leave Essex County to do things, this is where they will want to be,” Assemblyman Ralph Caputo said. “The renaissance in Essex County really started with Joe DiVincenzo and this project is another example of that.”
These upgrades are the latest improvements made in Watsessing Park since DiVincenzo took office in 2003. Most of the projects were funded with grants received by Essex County and the Watsessing Park Conservancy from the New Jersey Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board, and in-kind services from other governmental agencies.
In 2003, Essex County completed a beautification project at the Bloomfield Avenue entrance to Watsessing Park. New sidewalks, decorative park pathways and landscaping improved the entrance, making it more inviting.
In addition, upgrades were made to the drainage system, park trees were trimmed, and the restrooms and senior room were painted. Essex County also installed rubberized safety surfaces in the three playgrounds in the park.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 23 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, four off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens.
At 69.67 acres, Watsessing Park is the fourth largest park in the Essex System. It was designed in 1899 by the Olmstead Brothers firm and land acquisition was started in 1901.