WESTFIELD, NJ — Plans to add two lighted turf fields at Tamaques Park this year are being put off while the town creates its new master plan, Mayor Shelley Brindle said at Tuesday night’s town council meeting.
“After several conversations with Gary Fox, the chairman of the recreation commission, and with the support of [Town Administrator] Jim Gildea and Recreation Director Don Bogardus, we have made the decision to delay the Tamaques Park renovation to enable the opportunity to fold this critical initiative into the master plan process that is about to begin,” Brindle said.
“I just want to re-affirm my commitment that, totally, I am in complete agreement that our community is in desperate need of new fields,” Brindle told the audience.
The new master plan will include a vision for all of the town’s parks, Brindle explained, and she said it didn’t seem prudent to begin making a significant change to just one of them at this time.
During the council’s conference meeting earlier in the evening, Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan questioned how long the project would be put off.
“If we’re able to engage on this master plan process let’s just say by May, June, it only takes about 12 months,” Brindle said, “And that’s when the whole plan emerges and that’s when we can start prioritizing what projects should get done and how.”
“As you know, I worked on that committee, and we really did an exhaustive look,” Neylan said. “… my fear is that it’s going to be put off way into the future.”
Brindle said that if the end result of the master plan process, which she anticipates will take 12 months, is that the original plan for two lighted turf fields at Tamaques Park is the best solution, “then we’ll just pick up right where we left off and you’re not going to be that much farther behind.”
Brindle said that she is also concerned that, while they have had input from the user groups about the fields, there has been no input from the public.
“I wouldn’t assume, just because we all like this, that when put this in front of the public that it’s a slam dunk,” Brindle said.
She said that the master plan process will be a community-driven process.
“So that when they come out the other end you’re going to be very clear on what the public is willing to do, what needs to get the priority and you’re not going to get the resistance,” Brindle said. “You think it’s going to delay the process? I actually completely disagree. I think when you bring the public into this process, it’s going to actually facilitate this thing getting done sooner.”
Several leaders from Westfield youth sports expressed their concerns to the council about the delay.
“We’re desperate for new fields,” Hugh McGuire, president of the Westfield Lacrosse Club told the council during the conference meeting.
“It’s almost embarrassing when we go to other towns that are half the size that have facilities 10 fold of what we have,” Westfield Lacrosse board member Erik Elfstrum said later at the council’s regular meeting.
Councilman Frank Arena suggested coming up with a compromise to get the project started sooner.
“I just want to say, I’m extremely disappointed,” Councilman Mark LoGrippo said. “But we’ll work together and move forward.”
LoGrippo said that he had been hoping for completion of the project in 2019.
“If I see anything before three to five years, I’ll be very impressed,” LoGrippo said.