Not everyone is happy with plans to upgrade Essex Park and playground in Montclair’s Fourth Ward.

As reported in early June by Montclair Local, the 9.9-acre park on Chestnut Street is expected to undergo renovations and get a new pathway and lights, bathroom renovations and a new playground.

The renovations are covered under Green Acres funds granted in 2019 and were approved by the council in 2020, but were put off due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings said.

Now residents of the area and parkgoers are concerned with what they call a lack of transparency on what exactly the renovations will entail. After emailing Cummings and Second Ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager, whose ward also contains some of the park, and getting no specifics, Marina Miller said she launched a petition on to try to stop the work. As of Thursday, June 30, the petition had 311 signatures. 

The playground equipment “is in perfect shape,” Miller told Montclair Local. “We don't want the rubber mat flooring, which gets damaged so quickly and then becomes dangerous. We like the wood chips that are there now.”

About 30 to 50 people are at the park at any given time over weekends, and about 15 to 20 kids use the park in the after-school hours, Miller said about the popularity of the playground and park. 

She said she is also concerned with what she called a lack of communication by the township to the users and neighbors of the park. She said she has asked Cummings and Schlager about the details and the start and end dates of construction, but has not been provided much information.

“No one was consulted, there’s been no communication,” she said. “No one wants this.”

The petition asks that the township stop the work. It also points out the playground’s shady tree canopy, unique to parks in Montclair, and concern over possible tree loss. 

“While some parts of the overhaul are needed (bathroom improvements, walkways, etc.), the plan unfortunately includes demolition of the entire park, including but not limited to replacing the wood chips with rubber, and possibly some tree removal,” the petition reads. “The park is in perfect condition, and is one of the only shady parks in Montclair.”

On June 27, Cummings sent an email to Miller and Montclair Local addressing some of the concerns that was provided by the township’s engineer consultant, Norberto Hernandez.

Instead of rubber matting, plans call for the use of an engineered wood fiber chip safety surface, Cummings said.

“For this project, the township believed it made more sense to install engineered wood fiber chips since it would provide a natural look which is more what the residents are accustomed to having at this location,” he wrote, adding the installation of chips would be a cost savings for the township.

One tree, which was inspected by the township arborist, will need to be removed, and six new trees will be planted, he added. 

Cummings was not able to provide details to Montclair Local about the equipment that will be erected or the start and end dates for construction. 

Miller said parents are concerned about the potential of a lengthy lack of access to the park and playground while school is out.

As for a definitive timeline for the project, it is difficult to pinpoint, Cummings said, due to inconsistencies in “the current supply chain for materials.”

In March, the Township Council accepted a bid by Picerno-Giordano Construction for upgrades to both Essex Park and Nishuane Park in the amount of approximately $1.5 million. 

Schlager said she had not seen the plans, nor did she know a timeline for the project.

Montclair Local’s request for renderings of or scope of work for the new playground sent on Friday, June 24, had not been responded to by Monday, June 27.  

Schlager said she too had been trying to get some information for Miller, but had “not been successful in those attempts.” But, she said, “overall, I am happy that we are getting a new safe playground and bathrooms for the children and families of our town.”

Miller called the lack of communication by the township a “non-transparent vacuum.”

Cummings said that the park upgrades were part of a discussion for at least one Fourth Ward meeting. But Miller lives in the Second Ward, as do many of the park users, she said. 

Cummings said that in the future, considering the location of Essex Park, he would make sure residents of the Second Ward are included in any discussions on the park.