After seven years of negotiations with the city and the local school board, the Paulus Hook neighborhood is finally closer to seeing the long-hoped-for redesign of Paulus Hook Park.
While current plans are still preliminary and must receive further input from the local neighborhood, the historic park at the corner of Grand and Washington streets is on track for a complete makeover that could include a community playground, water sprinklers, a dog run, and active and passive space.
On June 6, residents from Paulus Hook saw for the first time some of the ideas for the redesign that have been drafted by two architectural and landscape design firms working on the project. Residents were given an opportunity to literally map out a few park features they’d like to see in Paulus Hook Park. This community input process will continue next month.
Henry Lee fought here
The park and a white obelisk monument that sits in it memorialize an historic battle that took place during the Revolutionary War between British and American soldiers – but one would never know it from looking at the park today.
A 1-acre park that actually sits on four corners at the intersection of Grand and Washington, the area is somewhat shabby and easy to miss. The southwest corner of the park is fenced off and used by PS 16 for recess and other school activities. The other three quadrants of the park lack a unified look to tie them together and look more like unplanned open space than a traditional park.
The park’s image today belies the neighborhood’s history and significance to the Revolutionary War, however.
The area was home to one of several forts that patriot forces used to guard against the British, although the fort was later abandoned and occupied by the British. In 1779, at the urging of George Washington, Major Henry Lee decided to storm the fort and attack British forces in Paulus Hook.
The 1-acre park is somewhat shabby and easy to miss.
The Paulus Hook area also has deep significance for local Native American history as well.
‘Gated and inaccessible’
Ironically, much of this rich history is not evident in the park that is meant to commemorate it.
Thus, the Historic Paulus Hook Association’s Parks Committee has been working since 2006 to get the park redesigned so that it better serves the current needs of the local community and has stronger ties to the neighborhood’s past.
When the Historic Paulus Hook Association began this work, “three corners of the park were gated and inaccessible,” said Stephanie Daniels, chairwoman of the group’s parks committee. “One corner of the park was being used to house ‘temporary’ classroom trailers due to overcrowding at PS 16.” (The school was built as a kindergarten-through-fourth grade elementary school, Daniels explained, but was being use as a pre-kindergarten through eighth school.)
For three years, the parks committee met with parents from PS 16, then-Superintendent of Schools Charles Epps and various city officials, including Ward E City Councilman Steven Fulop, to, Daniels said, “find a solution to the overcrowding at the school and to address the issue that the park, which had been funded by Green Acres, was not being utilized as a park.”
The Board of Education officially turned the park over to the city in 2010 after the middle school students were transferred to MS 4.
The city later gave the Historic Paulus Hook Association the right to redesign the park and to raise money to get the job done. The estimated cost of the redesign will be about $1 million. With a $50,000 grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust Fund, the architectural and landscaping design firms of Thomas Balsey Associates and Clarke Caton Hintz were hired to work on the redesign.
The two firms presented their preliminary ideas for the redesign last week, and invited feedback from local residents.
A few ideas on the table
Residents who attended the June 6 park redesign meeting favored the idea of giving the four quadrants of Paulus Hook Park a unified look – that will be achieved by using the same materials for each section – while also giving each section its own unique theme.
The southwest corner, which is still used by PS 16 for student recess periods, will likely keep a children’s theme and incorporate a playground that PS 16 will use during school hours, but which will be open to families in the late afternoons and on weekends.
The southeast corner might in some way pay homage to the area’s past as a marshland and may be used as a pathway that residents can use to cut through the community.
While planners from Clarke Caton Hintz have suggested that the northeast corner be used as a small “water park,” some residents did not like this idea and might be more interested in having this quadrant – which gets the most sunlight – used as a community garden.
The northwest quadrant could be redesigned to resemble the small neighborhood parks found in New York, replete with chess tables and park benches.
Some residents have also expressed an interest in seeing a dog run incorporated into one of the four quadrants.
At the June 6 meeting, residents began mapping out a few of their ideas for the park redesign. The Historic Paulus Hook Association will meet again on July 11 to continue discussion of how the park should be redesigned.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.