Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Wednesday, September 21st that the modernization of the James “Jim” Wallace Playground in Essex County West Side Park has been completed. The playground received new apparatus and a safety surface that were designed with a magnolia theme to connect the facility to the park’s history when West Side was known for its magnolia trees. In addition, the playground was shifted to the front of the West Side Park Community Center, which is a safer location because it is more publicly visible.
“I am very impressed with the new look and location of the West Side Park Playground. We created a unique recreation facility that will attract youngsters, give visitors insight about the park’s history, promote exercise and a healthy lifestyle, and provide children with a safer playing environment,” DiVincenzo said. “Moving the playground from behind the Community Center to in front of the building was an easy way to make it more accessible and safe for the children and families who visit,” he noted.
“Joe DiVincenzo has kept his word not once but twice when he named this playground after my late husband and then kept his name when the playground was renovated. Improvements like this will make sure people can enjoy the park,” said Carolyn Wallace, executive director of the International Youth Organization.
Newark Council President Mildred Crump noted that James Wallace had a great impact on the community and having the playground named in his honor was a lasting tribute, and that upgrading the playground provides children with recreation alternatives. “No one is more deserving to be remembered than the late James Wallace. The County Executive has done a great job remembering our past and improving park facilities for our children,” Newark Councilman Joe McCallum said.
“The playground has a great new location in front of the building that is more accessible for children and their parents. This will be enjoyed by so many children,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said. “The improved playground is wonderful for our children and it’s a great tribute to James Wallace,” Freeholder Lebby Jones said. “Look at the beautiful renovations done to the Community Center and now the upgrade to the playground. Projects like these create safe havens for our children,” Freeholder Rufus Johnson said. “I want to thank County Executive DiVincenzo for his vision. This new playground represents the future of playgrounds for children,” Freeholder Leonard Luciano said.
“We are pleased to work with Essex County and are pleased with the jewel that has been created in this playground,” UCC Executive Director Craig Mainor said.
The focal point of the playground is “Magnolia Hill,” a raised location in the center of the playground with a large cargo net climber and butterfly net climber; ladybug, monarch and inchworm figures on which to sit and climb; and giant shade structures resembling magnolias. The age appropriate area for children ages 5 to 12 years includes slides, traditional climbing apparatus, swings, a merry-go-round and miniature zip line. The age appropriate area for children ages 2 to 5 years includes slides, traditional climbing apparatus and swings. New features are water misters and a spray area adjacent to the community center to allow children to play in the water. The entire playground is fenced in to prevent young children from wandering and the old arched gateway to the James Wallace Playground has been incorporated into the entrance of the new one. The safety surface and play equipment are purple and yellow in color to connect to the magnolia theme and magnolia trees will be planted around the perimeter of the playground.
A significant change is the location of the playground in the park. It has been moved from behind the Community Center to a more publicly visible spot in front of the building next to the parking lot. The new site will enhance safety of children, and its proximity next to the parking lot makes it easily accessible.
Arterial Design Studio from Montclair received a $45,500 contract to design the new playground. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $901,717 to perform the construction. The Essex County Department of Public Works monitored the project and answered questions to avoid delays. The new playground was funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Construction started in May and was completed in less than four months.
The playground was last upgraded in 2002 by the previous county administration. It was dedicated in honor of James “Jim” Wallace, the late founder of the International Youth Organization in Newark, in 2006. One of the largest minority-led youth and community based organizations in New Jersey, IYO currently offers the Youth Leadership Development Program, which provides tutoring, recreation and educational trips for boys and girls ages 5 to 14, and the New Jersey Youth Corps, which assists high school drop outs ages 16 to 25. A role model and mentor to generations of young people, Mr. Wallace continued to lead the IYO and remained active in the community until he passed away on October 6, 2005. Mr. Wallace also was the longtime Chairman of the Newark Central Ward Democratic Committee and used this leadership position to become an advocate for the improvement of the quality of life for residents throughout Essex County.
Revitalizing Essex County West Side Park
Essex County West Side Park has received about $7 million worth of improvements during the DiVincenzo administration. Phase I improvements in 2004 included repairing the tennis courts, building new basketball courts, installing sports lighting at the tennis and basketball courts, constructing a 22-car parking lot, revamping the main park entrance for better access, renovating restroom facilities near the tennis courts, and upgrading the park entrances along 17th Street. The next two phases in 2006 included installing a synthetic grass football field and rubberized track, and conducting a major aesthetic renovation of the lower section of the park. Also in 2006, the West Side Park Community Center gymnasium was upgraded with a new wooden floor and fresh coat of paint. In the spring of 2007, the New Jersey Tree Foundation beautified the park by planting 40 new trees inside the park and along the park’s perimeter. A $2.3 million project to install a synthetic grass baseball field and renovate the locker room and rest room facilities was completed in November 2007. In 2009, a new spray park with climbing apparatus and a synthetic safety surface was developed. In 2015, the Community Center received a complete renovation with new flooring, windows, doors, HVAC system and lighting.
Essex County Executive DiVincenzo has partnered with the New Jersey Green Acres program, the Amelior Foundation, MCJ Foundation, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board, West Side Park Conservancy, Tri-Cities Peoples Organization, United Community Corporation, the Boys and Girls Club of Newark and the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development to secure grants to fund the improvements made to Essex County West Side 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 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. West Side Park is located on 31.36 acres of land in Newark’s Central Ward and is the ninth-largest park in the County’s system. Land for the park was acquired in 1895 and West Side Park was one of the original five parks in the Essex system.