LIVINGSTON, NJ - When the Madonna Field Project went out to bid, Livingston Township Manager Michele Meade said there were an extensive number of bidders and that the contract will be ready to sign as soon as the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) approves the permits without making any substantial changes.

After receiving recommendations from Township Engineer Jeannette Harduby as to which bid to accept, the Township Council agreed to the recommended $2.1 million based on the size of the project. Even though the lowest bid was less than $1.8 million, Meade said that adding roughly 20 percent to the pricing would ensure that the project has enough funds for contingency.

“We had really great pricing and had a huge amount of bidders,” said Meade, who was enthusiastic about the competitive bidding. “We just don’t know at this time whether the DEP may require a substantial change, which would probably negate this pricing and we would have to go out to bid again. We’re not looking to order any contracts until we have the permits."

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In the meantime, the Township Council is awaiting comments from the DEP before signing a contract in case of any unexpected changes that would require the project to be sent back out to bid. According to Meade, some substantial changes might include moving the location of the field or its structure, although she does not anticipate there being any major changes and anticipates that the excess 20 percent will cover any minor changes.

One the permits are approved, the council hopes to begin work on the project by April 25.

In other news, a conversation resurfaced about an elementary-school student’s idea to build a walking bridge on Wardell Rd. near Collins Elementary School. In addition to this being an impressive idea brought to the council by a passionate child, Mayor Al Anthony said it is also a “green” initiative that will allow students in the area to and said that he supports the idea.

The council said that it had looked into a grant several years ago when the child first vocalized this idea, but it was denied and hasn’t been looked at since. In order to get the ball rolling on this project, the council said it is looking to get the Livingston Board of Education involved.

A new Master Gardener in the area, who heard about the Livingston Township Council’s plan to somehow enhance the Riker Hill Art Park, brought another “green” initiative to the council on Monday by suggesting a community garden.

Master Gardeners, a county-based program through Rutgers University that people can sign onto each year, were assigned to locate a site in the Essex County area that has enough water and sunlight to harvest and maintain a successful community garden. Since the council recently suggested brainstorming different ways to enhance the Riker Hill Art Park, which is the highest point in Essex County, an aspiring Master Gardner proposed bringing in professional Master Gardeners who could add their expertise to the Riker Hill Art Park upgrade.

“I saw the announcement that you were considering doing some sort of upgrade project at the Riker Hill Art Park and it was coincidental that I am currently in the Master Gardener program,” she said. “It has to have people willing to participate in the concept of community garden. A community garden is one that can be any number of things: It can be vegetable plots that people sign up to work on or a beautification garden [etc.].”

Two issues that would need to be inspected before approve the community garden project included installing a fence to keep deer and groundhogs out and checking on the quality of the soil in the proposed area.

Mayor Anthony, stating that the Riker Hill Art Park is technically county property, said he liked the idea but that the Essex County Executive would have the ultimate say in whether a community garden is a possibility.