SOMERVILLE, NJ – The reclamation of Southside Park continues to gain momentum.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has notified the borough that its grant application has been approved, with $143,355 set aside to help pay for planned improvements at the multi-purpose community park. The grant represents 25 percent of the projected cost of $581,950 for repairs and renovations, according to Borough Councilman Jason Kraska, liason to the Recreation Commission, which oversees the park.

Formally known as Arthur Chambers Park, several improvements have already been made.

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Earlier this year, the concrete swimming pool was reduced to rubble, filled in and the ground regarded; the basketball court has been repaved and will be relined, with new nets installed.

The public is invited to a meeting for an update and to discuss further improvements Tuesday, July 18 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at Police Headquarters, 24 So. Bridge St.

Kraska credits Recreation Commission member Tom Scherr, who is a grant writing specialist, for his work on the grant application. 

The application sent to Trenton included letters of support from community groups, clubs, residents and elected officials, including state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, (R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer), state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, (R-16th), as well as the Downtown Somerville Alliance and the borough’s Environmental Commission, according to Kraska.

“One of my main goals this year has been to get that park back open and usable,” Kraska said. He moderated a meeting late last year at St. Paul’s Church to solicit ideas for improvements to the park from residents.

Kraska said the application sent to the DEP contained many of the ideas discussed at that meeting.

The proposal sent to Trenton included plans for:

- new restrooms;

- new basketball court;

- new pavilion, including grills and game tables;

- new playground;

- splash pad similar to one at Park Avenue Park;

- new softball/baseball field; now overgrown by weeds, it used to be the home field of the Somerville High School Pioneers baseball team;

- new community garden;

- improvements to the greenway trail.

Chambers/Southside Park has been closed and off limits for several years after a nearby treatment plant broke down, spewing sewage onto the playing fields alongside the Peter Brook, which flows into the nearby Raritan River.

The faulty valve system has since been repaired, enabling the plant alongside the Raritan River to handle the extra flow in the system, caused by floodwater runoff entering the sewer line,

The equipment upgrade has stopped the backup of sewage on the property; several years of rainfall and flooding in the low-lying area of the borough has cleansed the area of any contaminants, according to Kraska.

The Somerset Raritan Valley Sewage Authority is designing an overflow treatment plant that will be built on the site of the existing plant, according to Kraska. The $18-20M facility will handle and treat the excess capacity generated by flood runoff during storms, providing a permanent solution.

The borough’s Department of Public Works continues to maintain the park, keeping the grass cut and removing litter; but the forced closure has taken its toll.

Kraska said the borough’s Recreation Department has committed to funding a portion of the planned upgrades from its trust account, but has not determined the amount.

 “We’re working with other organizations to get more funding so that we don’t have to do it on the backs of the taxpayers,” Kraska said.

“I can’t make promises as to what will be done, but this once thriving park and the residents of Somerville deserve to have this facility cleaned up and brought back,” he said.

"We'll figure it out," added Mayor Brian Gallagher.