2006-09-28 / Front Page

North Brunswick park begins to take shape

Construction well under way at site of former Otken farm
BY JENNIFER AMATO Staff Writer

BY JENNIFER AMATO
Staff Writer

PHOTOSBY MIGUEL JUAREZ staff
Theodore Enoch and Albert Marquez put the finishing touches on a baseball field at the new 105-acre park on Route 130 in North Brunswick.PHOTOSBY MIGUEL JUAREZ staff Theodore Enoch and Albert Marquez put the finishing touches on a baseball field at the new 105-acre park on Route 130 in North Brunswick. NORTH BRUNSWICK - When people wake up on a Saturday or Sunday, they might think, What should I do today?

Should I go for a walk or a run? Should I bring my dog along? Should I gather up a few neighborhood kids and play catch or round the bases? Should I help my son or daughter practice their goalie techniques? Should I volunteer at the local snack shack and give back to the community?

All of these options will soon be viable with the completion of Phase I of the 105-acre park on Route 130, which is expected to be finished by November.

"It is a community park and it is very important that everyone feels part of the park and part of its uses," Lou Ann Benson, director of the Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Services, said of the former Otken farm property. "Everyone in the township can go to the park and have maybe a child playing baseball or maybe a grandparent walking on the walking trail. ... I hope families pack a lunch and come out to use the park, and hopefully there will be an activity to please everyone."

A newly sodded soccer field gets some much-needed hydration. There are three full-sided and three short-sided fields on the property.A newly sodded soccer field gets some much-needed hydration. There are three full-sided and three short-sided fields on the property. Phase I deals with 70 acres in the rear-most portion of the property. There is a 2.2-mile gravel walking and running path; 5 acres of open lawn space for picnics or kite flying or small gatherings; three full-sided soccer fields; three short-sided soccer fields; and four baseball fields in a wagon-wheel shape.

"Our goal is to in-house bring the trail to an official 5K run and walk. We'll take the 2.2 [miles] and add to that, hoping to have our [Memorial Day] 5K walk/run here," Benson said.

Last week, the soccer fields were sodded, the streetlights were installed, and the trash and recycling containers were ready for placement, with consideration given to the neighboring residential developments along Adams Lane and Renaissance.

"We can really see the park starting to take its shape. It is definitely nice to see the grass being placed in," Benson said.

The two concession stands should soon go out to bid, as well as a maintenance facility for the park's staff, hopefully to be completed by April. In the future, the construction of two softball fields will be looked into, as soon as the necessary funding is acquired. In addition, a stage area for outdoor theatrical events is being considered and more benches will be installed for seniors who want to use the park.

"The 105-acre park was built with taking in the inventory of what we already had in the township," Benson said, noting the importance of satisfying the entire community's needs.

A dog park is also a forthcoming concern, with the committee seeking advice from the township's Humane Association as well as from residents. The intention is to locate it a short distance behind the existing structure of the farmhouse.

With regard to the historical building, the committee has not yet determined whether the house will be left alone, moved or taken down.

Also completed are the 11.5 acres of open lawn along the park's frontage with Route 130, part of Phase II construction, which has already been used for township events such as last year's Spook-a-Rama soccer tournament.

Benson said the next phase will feature additional community uses, including outdoor basketball courts, paddleball courts and possibly an outdoor pool, and a site for the summer day camp program. It is unclear how long Phase II will take to come to fruition.

"Nothing is set in stone, [but] we'll go through another discussion period and look at our finances," she said. "It's going to be a challenge but at the same time very rewarding."

In 2000, officials took the controversial step of condemning the property to meet the township's needs for more passive and active recreational space, and about four years later paid $9.5 million for the farm. The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders' Green Acres funds supplied about $5.5 million of the total purchase.

"It was important to obtain a park that could be used as a true focal center for the recreational needs of the town, be it organized youth sports of the town or for adults - whatever would fill that bill," said Mayor Francis "Mac" Womack, adding that he still wishes the property had not needed to be condemned.

The construction project began five years ago with the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee sketching ideas on large pieces of blank white paper. After much consideration and brainstorming, more formalized plans were laid out and construction approval was authorized on Aug. 12, 2005.

"I think it feels good simply because it is such an important thing for our town and it's going to be such a nice park. I think anyone who had any part in the process is entitled to feeling a sense of pride," Womack said.

Grant money has supported the development of the site, including an $80,000 grant from the freeholders under the county's Open Space & Recreation Pedestrian/Bicycle Grant Program in July to increase sidewalk lengths from Adams Lane into the park.

"From going from paper to the actual fields itself, when I rode out there to the initial site that had gotten tall with grass, you ride out there and think, 105 acres, my gosh. Then when you see the fields, it's like the pieces are coming together and it's very exciting to see. There was a plan. The township was very diligent in the inventory of the needs of the township," Benson said.

When the park is available for public use, permits must be obtained from the Parks & Recreation Department. Residents can stop by 710 Hermann Road, call (732) 247-0922, ext. 475, or e-mail Lbenson@northbrunswickonline.com.

"It's been a very rewarding opportunity to have worked on this project," Benson said. "I think it is a great addition to the community, and I think it is a great area to provide diverse leisure services to all residents.... I think the future generations will be very lucky to have this tract of community parkland here to use."

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