Somerville Residents Offer Suggestions for a Revamped Park on Veterans Memorial Drive East

The tennis courts at Ken Cornell Wheel Park and Firehouse Field on Veterans Memorial Drive East are in rough shape. Credits: Rod Hirsch

SOMERVILLE, NJ – A handful of residents came to the borough’s Recreation Commission meeting Wednesday night with suggestions for the eventual redesign of the Ken Cornell Wheel Park and Firehouse Field on Veterans Memorial Drive East.

Kathy Gerndt, director of the Recreation Department, said a survey will be posted on the recreation department’s website seeking further input from residents.

The borough demolished and removed the wooden BMX bike ramp in June that had been used by cyclists and skateboarders; the 20-year-old ramp was rotting and deemed a hazard, according to Gerndt.

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“It’s not like we’re ripping down the park because we don’t like skaters,” she said.

Suggestions from the audience included an updated concrete structure in place of the wooden BMX ramp; more tennis courts; an “old school” concrete wall for tennis and lacrosse players to practice their strokes, a street hockey rink or a dog park.

The commission will move slowly and deliberately on any redesign or repurposing of the park, which now has an open field for soccer, football and lacrosse; tennis courts, a basketball court, an outdoor exercise yard, a gazebo and parking lot, according to Gerndt.

The underutilized expanse of property fronts on a bend in the road that extends from the Somerville Fire Department Engine Company One firehouse to a commercial property and across the street from a vacant auto body shop. A pedestrian and bicycle bridge to the rear of the property leads to the Peters Brook Greenway, which winds along the stream beneath the concrete viaduct that whisks New Jersey Transit commuter trains to and from New York City.

Borough Councilman Jason Kraska, liason to the Recreation Commission, said the firehouse will be demolished because the building, as well as the adjacent park, is in a flood plain alongside Peters Brook. The borough is looking for a site to relocate the fire company.

Gerndt and Kraska also emphasized that the commission is evaluating all its parks and whatever is done with Cornell Wheel Park and Firehouse Field will be considered in the overall context of the broader plan.

“We’re working on a long range plan so there is no immediate rush to do anything,” Gerndt said.

“We have an open mind and we want to listen to your suggestions,” she added.

Funding is also a major consideration; Kraska said the borough would be hard-pressed to fund any improvements. Alternative financing, including grants, will have to be identified, he said. 

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