The Phase II improvements to Bayonne’s Dennis P. Collins Park was officially opened on Tuesday, November 1. Officials, residents, and even members of the Collins family were present for the ceremony at First Street and Avenue C. The ceremony is the second recent opening of a city park following renovations, including Dr. David Morris Park.
The park is named after former Mayor Dennis Collins, who was elected four times in 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986. Prior to that, he served on the City Council from 1962 to 1974, being City Council President from 1966 to 1974. After serving as mayor, he worked as an aide to Sen. Robert Menendez Sr. when he was still a congressman before returning to Bayonne City Hall as an aide for Mayor Joseph Doria.
Collins Park, the largest municipal park in the city, has been renovated in phases, with the rest of the park open while this was under construction. The city completed Phase I of the park in 2018 and included: new playground and exercise equipment; renovated tennis courts; a new volleyball court; new dog runs; new trees and landscaping; and new benches; among other improvements.
The Phase II renovations saw the construction of new facilities including: a roller hockey rink; a multi-purpose elevated seating area; a playground for ages two to five; a playground for age five to 12, basketball courts; an exercise and training area; benches and tables; trees and landscaping; and a large gazebo.
The playgrounds are amusement park themed, an ode to the former Uncle Milty’s Playland that used to occupy the grounds back in the day, complete with a “Miltyville” ticket booth. The multi-purpose elevated seating area serves as a sort of an open amphitheater overlooking the Kill van Kull, that can be used as an outdoor classroom or performance space.
Gorman Field has received new sod, along with new fencing and a sprinkler system. The field is not yet ready for use, but will be opened in the spring, as the new sod requires time to develop roots. Additionally, the Gorman Field parking lot will be repaved, and another parking lot has been expanded.
The renovations were done by Picerno-Giordano Construction of Kenilworth for $3,697,669, which was awarded the contract in May of 2021. The construction company has also been contracted to complete upgrades to Fitzpatrick Park, and 28th Street Park among other local parks.
Officials tout completion of this phase of Collins Park improvements
At the park reopening, Mayor James Davis touted getting the park complete after the renovations were ongoing for many years.
“I know this took a long time, but people have to realize a lot of the property had to be remediated before we could actually do what you see today,” he said.
Davis thanked the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for ensuring that the park was built safely. He also expressed gratitude to the Picerno-Giordano family and their workers for constructing the park.
In addition, Davis thanked the CME engineers and other project professionals that worked on the project. He also gave a special shoutout to Department of Public Works Director Tom Cotter for his special attention to this for the past two years.
“My main focus since I became mayor was what I remembered being a kid,” Davis said. “I grew up just three blocks from here. This was Uncle Milton’s and Dennis Collins was our mayor. All I remember being a child was that every single park in Bayonne was slowly redone while he was in office.”
When Davis became mayor eight years ago, he said he promised himself and his family that he was going to emulate Collins and redo every single park in the city. These renovations are part of fulfilling that promise, he said.
“Over the last eight years, and Mr. Picerno can vouch for this, we are slowly doing it,” Davis said. “County money has helped us immensely with Hudson County Park. If you haven’t walked through the park lately, take a walk through it. It is gorgeous. But this one, I believe, is a crown jewel.”
Davis said he was blown away by the upgrades, especially this portion of the park that serves as an homage to the former amusement park that used to occupy the park known as Uncle Milty’s Playland. He said he walks through the park daily, still living a couple blocks away, and it overjoyed.
“It far exceeds all my expectations, and it is an honor for me because it is Dennis Collins Park, that this will always be remembered as I will always remember him as a mayor that really, really took care of the city of Bayonne,” Davis said. “This is a crown jewel to Mayor Collins.”
Remediation of chromium from the soil and other toxic fill
Court Appointed Site Administrator Ronald Riccio for the clean up of Collins Park oversees a number of remediation sites throughout Hudson County. But he said this was the most important to him among the 20 sites.
“The most important to me has been making sure this park got remediated and restored safely and efficiently that it could become the beautiful park that it is today,” he said.
Riccio touted it as a collaboration between the public sector, the regulatory sector, and the private sector. He congratulated PPG, the company which remediated the site, for the successful cleanup, and the NJDEP for their diligence.
“In today’s day and age, it’s very difficult sometimes too see a connection between public, private, and regulatory actually impacting people ina positive way,” Riccio said. “It doesn’t happen often enough, but today is one of those special day when everything worked out the right way and people worked together to produce for their kids and their parents the same memories that were produced years ago.”
In addition, Riccio thanked Davis and other involved city officials. He specifically shouted out Business Administrator Donna Russo, with whom he worked closely with on the project at all hours of the day.
According to Riccio, the remediation was only thought to be small when they first began. However, that was not the case, and eventually 20,000 tons of contaminated land was removed.
“When I started with this, we thought the only area that needed remediation was a tree surrounded by a picket fence near the restrooms,” Riccio said. “We never imagined that the contamination extended throughout the park, but that was soon discovered and addressed so much so that throughout the excavation period there, we removed 20,000 tons of contaminated impacted material which was then transported for disposal at a licensed facility.”
The contaminated land was replaced with 39,000 tons of clean fill as a cap on the park. The revetment against the Kill van Kull was redone with new stones installed to last for generations.
Riccio also touted the homage to Uncle Milty’s Playland. He said that he used to come to the amusement park as a kid, and used to think of the Kill van Kull as the Atlantic Ocean.
“It was a place to come for young kids during a hot summer to get a cool breeze, to ride the rides, and to create some memories,” Riccio said. “Those memories stay with me today as vividly as it were 60 to 70 years ago.”
Riccio echoed Davis that the renovated park is a “crown jewel” for the city of Bayonne.
DPW Director reflects on years of work
Cotter said that he proud to finally be able to rededicate Collins Park for residents to enjoy after the renovations have been completed. He thanked the people whose “help, dedication, guidance, blood, sweat, and tears” made the project possible, including Davis, the City Council, city professionals including Rob Russo and Andrew Raichle among others, and city lawyers including Law Director Jay Coffey and now-Business Adminsitrator Donna Russo.
Cotter praised “the time they put in, the attention to detail, to keep me pushing forward to get this project done… You all gave me hope when I thought it would take way too long and the job was faltering and it wasn’t going to come to fruition. But you guided me through it from the beginning and now we’re here today.”
He also specifcially jokingly praised Coffey and Russo for making sure he “didn’t get locked up through the process.” He added: “I came in with ideas and suggestions and they keep me on track.”
In addition, Cotter thanked Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Jablonski for the Court Appointed Site Administrator. He said without Riccio, the project wouldn’t have moved along and thanked Riccio for ensuring PPG was doing the remediation correctly.
Cotter also thanked others including Alan Miller of the NJDEP, Jeff Worden from PPG, environmental professionals, and anyone else who worked to make this phase of the park improvements a reality, especially Tony Picerno and Nina Giordano who collaborated with Cotter on the design.
“Design after design, I would shoot you guys down,” Cotter said. “Then you came in with that presentation and took the vision that I wanted and pulled it out of the back of my head. And now this is the way the park turned out. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
Cotter also praised the Uncle Milty’s Playland references in the park. He said he used to go there often and remembered when the amusement park closed.
“i never met him, but his vision is still alive here in the park,” Cotter said. “So it’s good to see that it’s not forgotten.”
Cotter also thanked residents for pushing and keeping him in check. Although a pain at times, he thanked them for following through with city officials.
“To those who called and complained millions of times that it was taking too long and asking when its going to open, I love you too,” Cotter said. “It’s part of our job as public officials, we have to take the good with the bad. If they’re not keeping us in check, no one else well.”
Cotter ended by thanking the Collins family. He said that Collins’ intention for the park remained: “His vision for this park years ago is still alive today and will still be alive for the next generation.”
Park already put to good use
First Ward City Councilman Neill Carroll III echoed thanks to all involved. He also thanked the Bayonne Police Department, who attended the event with their mobile command center.
“It’s not just about recreating ourselves and being in this park and relaxing and enjoying life, but that we can do it safely,” Carroll said.
Carroll, much like Davis and other Bayonne residents, has been a fan of the park since he was young. He said it will continue to serve as a hub for youth with the new renovations.
“When I was growing up, this was one of the biggest things I looked forward to,” Caroll said. “The biggest thing I looked forward to was being able to walk by myself from 2nd Steet and Trask Avenue down to First Street Park. That was major. Then to be able to radiate outwards throughout the entirety of First Street Park. At one point, this was my whole world. This was my friends’ whole world. We came down here for everything, our pick up games, football in the back end of Gorman Field.”
Carroll praised the renovations that younger him would have been ecstatic about. He was happy to play a part of it being on the council.
“To look at it now, I could go on for an hour,” Carroll said. “But I’m so filled with joy and gratitude, that even to have a small part of this with my colleagues on the council and to watch it grow out of the ground and flat earth when they took it down to the nubs, it was magic. It was like watching a miracle happen and now knowing that this is going to be another kid’s whole world one day or for the first part of their lives means the world to me and to the Collins family.”
Caroll shared how he used to get out of school at St. Andrew’s School and his grandfather Neil Carroll I would take him to the park. He said there his grandfather and Collins would “talk about the problems” facing Bayonne and the world sat at a bench while he played.
“When I walk though here, and I hope I can do it every day of my life, it just raises my heart up,” he said. Concluding his remarks, Carroll exclaimed: “The park is open.”
Davis added: “When you think about Uncle Milty’s we also have to try to preserve our past. Last week we just had the bell tower put up at Fitzpatrick park, which has the three bells from St. Joesphen’s Church which was sold off. I’m always going to try to keep our past a part of our future. That’s what we need to do so that we can never forget everything and where we came from.
Amid the ceremony, the park was already being put to good use on the sunny evening. Children’s laughs could be heard as they played on nearby equipment. Runners and people walking their dogs passed behind the speakers at the podium as they used the walking path. The bounce of basketballs on the court echoed. And the Collins Park experience wouldn’t be complete without a large vessel passing through the Kill van Kull and under the Bayonne Bridge in the background.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at email@example.com.