Is there going to be light at the end of the tunnel for the dilapidated playground at Pershing Field?
Parents in the Jersey City Heights community where the park is located sure hope so, arguing the playground equipment is so old it’s a safety hazard for kids.
This week, the Pershing Field Garden Friends Neighborhood Association will meet to get community input regarding the city’s playground renovation plans and a possible relocation of the playground and a nearby basketball court.
But the biggest hurdle the playground renovation project faces is a lack of money to get the job done.
Plans to renovate the playground at Pershing Field date back to 2005, when the Pershing Field Garden Friends took a survey of what the community wanted from this park.
“We knew that coming down the pike the city was going to put together a master plan for its parks, and we wanted to be able to have some input into that,” said Laura Skolar, president of the Pershing Field Garden Friends.
The neighborhood group took a survey of its members and other residents in the community around 2005 and 2006. Some of the survey respondents suggested that the location of the playground and basketball court be switched.
“Right now, the playground is on the busier, more active side of the park,” Skolar explained. “The basketball court is kind of tucked in the southwest corner of the park, which some people thought would be a better location for a children’s playground. But it would require more money to [make this switch].”
‘The playground at Pershing Field is extremely dilapidated and unsafe, despite the visible patch-job attempts by the city to stabilize the playground equipment.’ – Bilyana Dimitrova
The city eventually applied for a $3 million Green Acres grant, but received only $900,000 to renovate seven parks, including Pershing Field, according to Rodney Hadley, director of the Jersey City Department of Public Works. Hadley said plans to renovate the playground in Pershing Field have been on hold ever since – partly because the city doesn’t have all the resources it needs to do the necessary work, and partly because his department is waiting for the community to decide whether it wants to swap the playground and basketball court or not.
The price tag to switch the playground and basketball court, according to Hadley, would be about $1 million, while the playground renovation project will cost about $600,000 alone.
Parents on playground: ‘It’s depressing’
As this issue has dragged on without a resolution the playground has only become more run down, to the dismay of parents who say it’s the only outlet for outdoor play for their children.
“My husband and I have been home owners in the Heights since 2004 and have always felt very fortunate to have Pershing Field within walking distance from our home,” said Bilyana Dimitrova. “As far as ‘green space’ this park serves the residents well for walking or ball playing. But as far as offering a playground for our children, it fails miserably. It was not until my husband and I had our daughter, who is now 21 months, that we found out about the state of the playground firsthand.”
She said, “The playground at Pershing Field is extremely dilapidated and unsafe, despite the visible patch-job attempts by the city to stabilize the playground equipment. What is very sad about all of this is that despite the playground’s current condition it still continues to be used by many children each day, who clearly have no other option. There is no other playground for them to walk to. A broken-down, graffiti covered, rusted playground is their only current option. Our children deserve much better.”
Other parents say they refuse to even let their kids play in the Pershing Field playground.
“When I moved to Jersey City from New York City I was extremely excited to have a park across the street from my home,” said Melanie Class. “The park has so many amazing assets. There’s a track for running, tennis courts, a pool, an ice skating rink, a baseball field, and a playground. I didn’t have a child back then so I didn’t pay much attention to the playground. Now that I have a three-year-old child, I would like to use it. But, the playground is so unsafe and hazardous, I’m too afraid to let her play freely. The condition of the equipment is deplorable.”
Another mother, Michele Mason Holmberg, said she noticed the condition of the playground as soon as she moved into the neighborhood.
“One of the first things I noted was the deplorable condition of the Pershing Field playground,” said Holmberg. “I would bring my toddler, Jack, over to play and could not believe how damaged and dangerous the equipments was. On one of the slides, I couldn’t let him climb to the top because the stairs were loose and he could have easily pinched a finger in between the metal parts. The rubber flooring literally had, and still has, huge potholes in it where the hard cement underneath shows through. Most of the equipment is covered in graffiti, bleached by the sun, or barely held together by repairs. It’s depressing.”
Still, she said, “On a warm day the place is packed with families and kids. It’s clear to me that this is the only option for outdoor play for a lot of our neighbors.”
Funds still needed
The Pershing Field Garden Friends will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 19 in the Pershing Field Vietnam Veterans Memorial to discuss the playground issue. Skolar hopes the community can come to a resolution regarding the location of the playground and basketball court next month.
Once this issue is resolved, however, she acknowledges the city will still need additional resources to improve the condition of the Pershing Field playground.
Some members of the community have volunteered to help find additional resources from nonprofit foundations.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.