With the memory still fresh of last summer’s dashed promises to open the Essex and Nishuane pools, the Montclair Township Council voted at its Tuesday, Feb. 21, session to approve a new bond ordinance that would earmark $700,000 in repairs and improvements at the township’s pools. The action was accompanied by assurances from council members that the work will not delay or disrupt the next season.

“Any work is happening after Labor Day,” Fourth Ward Councilor David Cummings said. “The pools will be open this summer.”

The repairs, described as “minor and cosmetic” by Councilor-at-Large Peter Yacobellis, are separate from the work at surrounding parks that caused one delay after another last year and blocked many families from relishing an integral part of summer —their neighborhood pool. 

While Mountainside Pool operated all summer, Nishuane and Essex remained closed throughout, as a number of projected reopening dates came and went.

Yacobellis said the work at both Nishuane Park and Essex Park is mostly done, “with the exception of tying up loose ends.” 

Acknowledging that residents endured a series of faulty guarantees last year and might be wary of more promises, Yacobellis said the remaining improvements at the parks would have no impact on the pools. He minimized the additional work, saying it included the installation of a water fountain in Nishuane Park and maybe a “bench here or there.”

The ordinance to approve $700,000 for improvements at the two pools will require a second vote by the council, likely at its next week meeting on March 14. On Tuesday night, the vote was 6-0. (Councilor-at- Large Bob Russo left the meeting early.)

Cummings asked acting Township Manager Brian Scantlebury to provide more details about the scope of the work before the council takes a final vote.

The measure includes $665,000 in bond money for largely routine maintenance and cosmetic work, including replacement of filter equipment and reconstruction of a storage facility, Yacobellis said. 

Dismay over last summer’s false starts has lingered through the fall and winter, with residents framing it during open comment at council meetings as part of a broader ineptitude in local government. 

But Cummings said the problem was created by the COVID-19 pandemic when work across the municipality came to a halt and budgets were frozen.

“COVID stopped everything,” Cummings said before the Tuesday night council meeting. “This work initially was to commence in 2020, but COVID prevented that from happening. We had this money in the budget to get this done. The delay in the council in passing the budget prevented the Department of Community Services from going out to bid. And so work started late and was not able to get completed for the pools to be up and ready.”

Vagueness seemed to surround the process last year, as the summer months slipped away. The two pools were initially scheduled to open at the end of June.
Later, residents were told that the Nishuane Park renovations would be completed in time for an opening at some point during the first two weeks of August. That never happened, and with the contractor, Picerno-Giordano Construction, then scheduled to move on to Essex Park, hopes that the Essex Pool would open also vanished.

At the time, the township said that heavy equipment and blocked footpaths and entrances would endanger swimmers heading to the pools. 

In published materials issued to residents, the township also said that the contractor was impeded by a nationwide shortage in materials that was triggered by the pandemic.

“At the end of the day, both parks will get significant improvements and upgrades and provide a better experience,” Cummings said last summer.