Two Montclair pools remain closed pending delayed construction projects
First expected to open June 29, two of Montclair’s three public pools remain closed this summer while construction moves forward in their surrounding parks.
Mountainside Pool opened on May 28, and Essex and Nishuane pools were expected to open by the end of June, according to the township website. But the opening of the two pools depended on the completion of renovations — planned since 2020 — of the parks surrounding them. And township officials have not yet said when the construction will end and the pools will open.
According to a Q&A issued by the township on Tuesday, July 5, the Nishuane Park renovations now underway will be completed in the next four to six weeks, “weather permitting and barring any unforeseen circumstances.” When construction is completed, the pool will open, which could be anywhere from Aug. 1 to Aug. 15.
The contractor will then move on to Essex Park. Township officials did not give a timeline for the duration of the construction at that park.
Nishuane and Essex parks, in the Fourth Ward, are undergoing $1.75 million in renovations covered under Green Acres funds granted in 2019.
Upgrades at Nishuane include a new pathway, resurfaced tennis and basketball courts, and placement of benches, garbage receptacles and water fountains.
Essex Park renovations include a new pathway and lights, an updated bathroom and a new playground.
Work was scheduled to begin in the parks in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic shut down construction, Fourth Ward Councilman David Cummings said. Construction in Nishuane Park began May 5, according to township officials.
But the work was temporarily halted after “the contractor experienced construction, material and staffing issues as are being experienced nationwide as the result of the pandemic,” the Q&A stated.
“Every effort will be made to open Nishuane Pool as soon as possible after completion of major construction items related to the project and when the area is deemed safe,” the document says.
Township communications director Katya Wowk has not responded to a July 5 email asking for an expected opening date after she shared the Q&A.
For Essex Park, “a start and completion date has not yet been established since work at Nishuane Park is still ongoing,” the Q&A says.
Montclair closes its pools for the season on Labor Day, Sept. 5.
Hours at Mountainside Pool, in the First Ward, have been expanded to 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, from the previous 1 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
“This is an unfortunate situation that ultimately is the result of the pandemic,” Cummings said. “The decision to move forward this spring and summer was made to get the renovations done when the weather is good and construction delays are minimal due to bad weather.”
The timing of the construction was always going to shut down park access for a period of time, regardless of when it occurred, he said.
“I understand residents have every right to expect all township resources to be available to them,” Cummings said. “I also can see why some residents who do not live in the Fourth Ward feel like there was a lack of communication.”
But the park renovations, along with work at the Wally Choice Community Center in Glenfield Park, have been discussed at Fourth Ward meetings, he said.
“At the end of the day, both parks will get significant improvements and upgrades and provide a better experience,” Cummings said.
In an email sent to Montclair Local by a reader, Wowk apologized for the township’s slow communication regarding the pool closures. The contractor had assured the township that the work would be completed so the pools could open by the June 29 deadline, she wrote.
Picerno-Giordano Construction, contracted for the Essex Park and Nishuane Park Improvements project, referred questions from Montclair Local to the township’s engineering firm, Neglia Engineering Associates. Neglia engineer Norberto Hernandez has not responded to a voicemail left with his office Tuesday.
Township officials are “seeking to understand” when construction will be completed at the two parks and when the pools will open, Councilman Peter Yacobellis wrote in an email to constituents June 29.
“I understand that it can be very frustrating, especially if one thing was communicated and there are delays without explanation,” Yacobellis said in his email.
The township must do a better job of updating the community, he told Montclair Local on Tuesday.
“Both the planning and communication have been a disaster, and these instances keep adding up and it’s not acceptable,” he said. “I think the town would benefit from a project manager who tracks work and communicates with stakeholders, including the governing body and the public, regularly.”
During his tenure on the council, Yacobellis said he has not seen regular communication with stakeholders being “done well” — “something needs to change,” he said.
Finding a way to open a pool while construction is happening in close proximity is “tricky,” Cummings said.
“Controlling the flow of people through the parks to the pools is difficult — people walk in from all different directions,” he said. “There is heavy equipment being used, and there is no way to limit the areas contractors may need access to in the area impacted. If a piece of equipment has to access the area near the entrance to the pool, how is that safe?”
Pedestrian activity must be minimized as much as possible near the construction site, the Q&A states.
“It is unsafe to allow pedestrian activity, especially activities that may involve children, to be conducted near an active construction site,” it says.
But without construction beginning at Essex Park for the next four to six weeks, community members have asked why Essex Pool cannot be open in the meantime.
Much preparation must occur for a municipal pool to meet state and local health standards required to open to the public, the Q&A says.
“Complying with these requirements would give Essex Pool a very narrow window for opening, only to be closed again very soon after for construction work,” the document says.
Despite the continued closure of the two pools, attendance at Mountainside Pool has not noticeably changed, according to pool staff. While the first few weeks of summer have been busy, it’s been nothing out of the ordinary, a staff member told Montclair Local on Tuesday.
Montclair resident and Mountainside Pool member Melissa Azam said this summer feels like any other at the pool. Azam has been swimming at Mountainside Pool for years, bringing her 4-year-old daughter to cool off.
Azam, who goes to the pool three to four times a week, said she has “not noticed any increase” in attendance while the other pools have been closed.