NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — The results of a 24-question survey distributed by a group of local parents with the intention of determining North Caldwell residents’ priorities for improving the borough’s recreational fields were revealed at the North Caldwell Borough Council meeting on Tuesday.
Led by John Rapkin and Josh Leitner, a group of local residents attended the meeting for a third time to update the council on what has transpired in the last month. Rapkin said the group intends to come back again, but not until there is a fundraising plan that shows the community’s support for this mission, a clear understanding of the residents’ priorities for specific improvements and a clear understanding of the cost, timeline and feasibility of the projects.
“To get a deeper understanding of what the residents want and what improvements are a priority, we did an online survey where 1,600 people in town were emailed and we had 334 people participate,” said Rapkin, who distributed copies of the survey and key findings to all council members. “I think the results actually show that not only is there a need and a want, but there’s a willingness of the residents to participate in the process.”
Of the 334 people that participated, more than 73 percent of responders said that they would contribute time and money toward this initiative. More than 70 percent said the athletic fields were the top priority in terms of recreational facilities.
Additionally, more than 80 percent expressed the need to improve the outdoor facilities and less than 10 percent felt that the outdoor facilities were good to “excellent.”
It was also found that each of the four fields—Fireman’s, Liberty, Magnuson and Mountain Ave.—had many challenges with safety concerns, which were reflected in the survey. Approximately 83 percent viewed the North Caldwell athletic fields as “inferior to far inferior” relative to surrounding towns and more than 75 percent felt that the quality of the fields has not improved in the last year.
On average, more than six games per survey participant were canceled due to rain or poor field conditions in the past year, which Rapkin said were all games that needed to be made up and extended the time commitment for parents.
“In terms of the open feedback, some of the common themes that we heard were: the need for improved restroom quality and accessibility; easier accessibility to the fields for seniors; the desire for working scoreboards on each of the fields; and recommendations for a snack bar at Liberty or an improved snack bar at Mountain,” said Rapkin.
Rapkin and Leitner said that the survey made progress as far as understanding the residents’ priorities, but also updated the council on the progress made on the fundraising front. In fact, the group was recently approved for an Oct. 29 Halloween-themed 5K Fun Run/Walk, with proceeds going toward scholarships for three local high schools and the rest going toward field improvements.
According to Rapkin, Athletic Director Bill Moranz advised that the committee has a chance of receiving between $100-150,000 worth of Open Space Grants toward these projects as well.
The committee is also exploring sponsorship opportunities with local businesses, but requested the council’s help in establishing guidelines for potentially drawing out larger donations from different businesses, organizations, or residents.
“Our group here tonight met with Bill Moranz, along with the North Caldwell Recreation Foundation, and we are now working together,” said Rapkin. “We’ve also had two meeting to start preparation for an event coming up in October. We also had conversation with the incoming president of the Rotary Club of the Caldwells and he has expressed an interest on behalf of the club in getting involved and perhaps making a donation, so we’re exited about that.”
Leitner, to the council’s agreement, said that the survey speaks volumes about the need for these improvements and the wheels that have been spinning. Leitner said that the committee would have considered 50 responses as a victory, but noted that 300 people out of 1600 taking the time to go through 24 questions and the additional open-ended questionnaire should prove that these improvements to the borough’s fields should be a priority.
“The interest and the momentum is real,” said Leitner. “We want to be smart and calculated and take actions that represent the broader interest, but it would be a shame to keep coming back and keep spinning wheels without an understanding that we’re going to be taking action.
“There’s a perception within the town that the fields are inadequate,” he continued. “They’re disproportionately weak compared to everything that we know about this town. It’s our expectation that when we come back next time with thoughts and recommendations, it’s with ears open to making these changes.”