LIVINGSTON, NJ — The $1.1 million renovation project at Essex County Riker Hill Art Park (RHAP) has officially been completed, including upgrades that will improve public access, address flooding concerns and enhance aesthetics at the Livingston-based site.
During a ribbon cutting ceremony held on Monday to commemorate the project’s completion, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said that RHAP “is a hidden gem in our historic Parks System.” He noted that the upgrades have made the facility more user friendly and “encourage the public to experience the natural beauty of the landscape and the creativity of the artists."
"A great deal of thought and public participation went into setting the priorities for this project,” said DiVincenzo. “It's evident improvements were needed at the Art Park and it became clear during the public hearings that the neighbors and residents were ready to see changes made.”
DiVincenzo recognized Mayor Al Anthony and his fellow township council members for supporting the process of improving the park after more than 10 years of discussion about the need for a facelift.
In 2008, DiVincenzo proposed to make improvements, but said the plan was met with a great deal of opposition from area residents and artists who rent space in the park. Years later, both the local elected officials and the artists have supported the project and have lauded the proposed improvements.
"We stood here in December 2016, and the county executive promised changes would be made,” said Anthony. “Today, I want to thank him for fulfilling his promise. This looks gorgeous and we appreciate all you have done for us.”
Deputy Mayor Rudy Fernandez added that “the county came through” and has made the art park “better than before.”
Throughout 2018, several public meetings were held to hear public opinions and ideas about improving RHAP, and in August 2018, DiVincenzo immediately addressed concerns raised about traffic safety on Beaufort Avenue (the road leading into the park).
Trees and overgrown brush were cut back and removed to improve sight lines, and the drainage system along Beaufort was upgraded to address flooding.
Today, other improvements include:
- The installation of sidewalks and curbing;
- The installation of drainage systems to address flooding issues along the western section of the roadway;
- The repair of stairways, making sure the artists' studios and the main exhibit building are handicap accessible;
- Creating a designated scenic overlook site that includes message boards that tell the history of the former missile base and park;
- Updating directional, parking and building signage;
- Updating the facades of the artists' studios; and
- Creating a community garden that has some plots designed to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to garden.
"I was here when the park was first opened, and today it looks nothing like it did then," said Riker Hill Artists Association Vice President Sue Sachs. “We appreciate the drainage improvements and the other upgrades.”
Essex County Freeholder Patricia Sebold, also a Livingston resident, said it was exciting to se the park being “brought up to date.” Freeholder President Brendan Gill added that the RHAP is a unique location and that the project should be used as a model for the future.
"It's wonderful to see the relationship that has been fostered by the county with the artist community to provide this different kind of venue,” said Teresa Ruiz, New Jersey State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff. “RHAP presents a wonderful opportunity for the public to experience art and it's unique because it connects green space, art and the community together.”
Suburban Consulting Engineers from Flanders was awarded a professional services contract for $56,515 to design the improvements. APS Contracting from Paterson was awarded a publicly bid contract for $1.186 million to perform the construction work.
The project is being funded through the Essex County Capital Budget. Any additional work that needs to be done is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019, according to the county.
Cutting a ceremonial ribbon with the county executive are (from left to right) are:
- Sasho Momiroski and an employee from APS Contracting;
- Joseph Perillo from Suburban Consulting Engineers;
- Riker Hill Artist Cindy Rubino;
- Deputy Parks Director Kate Hartwyk;
- Freeholder President Brendan Gill;
- Riker Hill artists Leonard DiNardo, Sue Sachs, Irene Costello Breadle, Sandra Anton and Carla Horowitz;
- Freeholder Patricia Sebold;
- Livingston Mayor Al Anthony;
- Livingston Deputy Mayor Rudy Fernandez;
- Livingston Township Manager Barry Lewis;
- NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz,;
- Parks Director Dan Salvante; and
- Steve Savreski from APS Contracting
Click on the headlines below for more about the history of this project: