CAMDEN, NJ — How will public access look at the new athletic facilities set to rise where the old Campbell’s Field once stood? And how much say should Rutgers-Camden have given their contributions to the project — which includes $7.5 million?
These were two of the many questions raised by stakeholders and community members as they gathered at Rutgers University on Monday night to discuss the highly discoursed project in Camden.
Project managers hope to break ground on the $15 million field, once home to the Camden Riversharks, around Memorial Day.
However, locals say that in addition to an outline of public access to the county-owned field, others aspects of the project have not been clearly communicated.
Camden County Improvement Authority (CCIA) Chief Operating Officer James Lex, Camden County Counsel Chris Orlando, members of the respective firms handling design and engineering, and Rutgers spokesman Mike Sepanic were in attendance to say the community was being heard on matters of access as well as public safety and traffic-calming measures.
“I trust you but you have to look back to history to look on what we should do now,” said Ben Saracco during the meeting. “So will you work with the community to form an actual legally-binding community benefits agreement between brokers [regarding access and other additions] at these potentially additional Green Acres fields, as well as existing Green Acres fields in the city?”
Camden County Freeholder Jeff Nash answered with a resounding “yes.”
“The one thing I don't want to happen is for this to be a Rutgers field only. I get the dynamic of what's going on in the fields that currently exist,” said Nash. “Rutgers made a sizable multi-million dollar investment to build these fields, and they need a place for their baseball team to play and practice. So they have access to that. But it’s probably no different from the senior softball leagues that we have at our parks that permit certain times during the day and after that the community has access to it.”
Getting on the same page
When completed roughly in the spring of 2021, the facilities will offer an eight-lane track and field, as well as a baseball diamond with scenic views of the Philadelphia skyline and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
Rutgers’ NCAA Division III baseball team will call it home — as would softball, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey teams.
Unlike other county-owned parks like Pyne Poynt Park, the new field presents a unique situation with Rutgers ostensibly having a set of scheduled games but city leagues like the Camden Youth Soccer League hoping to host games too.
Rutgers spokesman Mike Sepanic said during the meeting that the university pays to maintain the school's current playing fields — the Rutgers-Camden Community Park.
Although it is unclear who exactly will handle maintenance of the new field, security is expected to be handled by the university.
“In terms of this property, we’re bringing seven and a half million to the table…is it enough money to warrant the value of the property? I don't know. I suspect not, but I don't,” Sepanic said. “I think that an agreement [regarding use is a matter] we’re going to keep working through.”
At the meeting, it was clarified that the current plan calls for 14 trash receptacles (five outside and nine inside), synthetic surfaces, movable bleachers and bus drop-off on Pearl Street.
It will allow the Rutgers teams to populate one field and community members the other simultaneously — with safety measures taken into account.
Other matters that have not been ironed out yet: what the exact hours of the park will be and the specific number of trees that will be planted within the park grounds.
Ewing Cole designers noted that the rendering it presented at the recent city and community meetings was not final, pointing out temporary placeholders like the trees along the interior of the track field and the “Rutgers Camden” name emblazoned on a building along the exterior.
Bryan Morton, president of Parents for Great Camden Schools and founder of the North Camden Little League, said storage for community leagues, as well as lacrosse and field hockey programs should be considered for city youth — to which Sepanic agreed.
City Councilwoman Felisha Reyes-Morton emphasized the need for safety measures like signage and lighting for the oft-barren part of the city during the late hours.
Cooper Grant Neighborhood Association president Jonathan Latko expressed concerns over flooding in the area — namely on Point Street — and hopes the project would help mitigate flooding issues for future residents.
Since part of the field — which was demolished a little over a year ago — sits below the flood plain, the project still needs Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permits in order to materialize.
But all signs point to shovels breaking ground this year.
The Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed on first reading an $11 million bond ordinance in February to fund part of the build-out.
“This has been described as a community park, not a park being built for Rutgers, and therefore it should be subject to the same management of other county parks,” a north Camden resident, who did not want to be named, told TAPinto Camden after the meeting. “There being enough trash receptacles and lighting for safety. The community having storage when they visit. These and more were stated goals that I hope will be incorporated [in the community agreement].”
Freeholder Nash said Maggie McCann, director of parks for Camden County, was sick and could not attend the meeting — but would receive an update from him.
Another meeting will be held with the community prior to construction on the field. The date is still be determined.