Mayor Mark Smith announced that major renovations are planned for Don Ahern Veterans Memorial Stadium and the land around it. Playing fields and other facilities in the stadium complex will be modernized and expanded.
The renovations will improve the quality of the playing surface, add a junior soccer field, and increase the spectators’ enjoyment of the games, according to the mayor.
“Renovating the stadium complex is a major commitment of the city of Bayonne,” Smith said. “The completion of this construction will be a signature project of our administration.”
All the 25th Street park improvements will be accomplished without any cost to taxpayers, Business Administrator Stephen Gallo said at a recent city council meeting. The monies instead will come from various grants and insurance proceeds.
These include funds from Spectra Energy in the form of a $1.1 million grant, from insurance proceeds from hurricane damage, Open Space grant funds, and donations.
“This stadium complex renovation project is a win for the taxpayers and a big win for the youth of Bayonne,” said City Council President Terry Ruane. “This state-of-the-art facility will accommodate several different types of sports played here in town. I am very excited about supporting these plans.”
The city plans call for replacing natural grass at the stadium with artificial field turf. There will also be a walking path made of field turf around the stadium. A new soccer field will be developed alongside the main playing field.
The main field is used extensively, and its natural grass requires constant maintenance, officials said. Even with regular care, the current natural grass field becomes muddy and unusable. The playing surface is low lying, located by Newark Bay, and is subject to flooding. The area was inundated during Hurricane Sandy, so city officials assured that drainage improvements were included for the field plans.
The existing stadium lights will be replaced with new illumination that will provide better and safer lighting. The bleachers around the baseball diamond will be renovated, complete with handicapped-accessible areas. A new ticket booth, restrooms, and concession stands are included in the designs. A storage shed for maintenance equipment, and a new entrance wall, are also included in the plans.
At the city council meeting on March 19, Maser Engineering, a firm under contract to Bayonne, estimated that roughly six months of construction would be involved in completing the renovations. Maser’s representatives suggested that construction during the winter months would be the least disruptive to the various high school and soccer league teams that use the stadium complex.
The original Veterans Memorial Stadium was built in 1966. The existing field was developed in time for Bayonne’s centennial in 1969. The name of the late football coach and council member Don Ahern was added to the original stadium in 1996. That concrete structure was replaced by the current aluminum stadium in 2001.
On March 19, the city council voted to authorize the city to advertise for bids for the stadium improvement project.
The city will be adding many new sports and recreational offerings in 2014. Among them are:
‘Parent & Me’ Swim Lessons
This summer, at the 16th Street Municipal Pool, the Division of Recreation will offer a new swim program for children ages 2 to 3 called “Parent & Me Swim.”
“Not only will this program be a terrific means for parents to bond with their children, it also will provide an indispensable education on safety and knowledge of the water,” said a recreation spokesman.
‘Parent & Me’ Arts & Crafts
The city of Bayonne just introduced a “Parent & Me” Arts & Crafts program (the first session was held March 22) for children three to seven years old and their parents. The program meets every Saturday through June.
“Parent & Me Arts & Crafts is very popular with the parents as they are given an opportunity to do an activity with their children that they never may have previously,” a spokesman said.
The Parent & Me Arts & Crafts curriculum is designed to develop children's creative skills—with a parent or guardian by their side.
The city is sponsoring a Recreation Division City Chess Championship to be held in April.
Special Needs Sports
Division of Recreation program improvements include a host of activities in a “Special Needs Sports” category.
Recreation initiated the new sports program in November, designed for children four to 17 years old with special needs.
The program meets once a month and offers a different sport each time. It began with Pillo Hockey, with close to 35 participants that day being introduced to the game played with hockey sticks with foam blades and a foam hockey ball.
A variety of sports
Since November, the Special Needs program held basketball, track and field, soccer, and football days. On Super Bowl morning, the children met for a special football event where all the participants went through an obstacle course, kicked a field goal, and put on football shoulder pads and a football jersey.
After the event, there was a special Super Bowl party with refreshments. The St. Peter’s University women’s soccer team participated.
Providing an opportunity
“The Special Needs Sports program has quickly become popular in Bayonne, allowing children with a wide array of special needs to participate in healthy sporting activity, many participating in organized sports for the first time,” said a spokesman. “What makes this program so terrific is that we are giving those with special needs the opportunity to participate in a sport, providing a very relaxed and comforting atmosphere. The participants play at their own paces and everyone has fun.”
City officials say the program is not only great for participants, but for the parents and guardians as well, allowing them to develop friendships with other parents. With warm weather on the way, the special needs sporting events will be held outside.
The city is also seeking to expand the Special Needs program next year, investigating joining the Challenger Division of Little League Baseball.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.