North Bergen residents now have one less reason to avoid exercising. A $500,000 fitness center has opened in James J. Braddock Park just in time for spring – and it’s free for residents to use.
The outdoor facility contains a wide variety of equipment to tone every muscle group. Included is a section for cardio workouts, along with a children’s playground and an adjoining picnic area.
“We have a machine for basically every body part.” – Joe Rotondi
Made for the average person
“In the past this was a basic fitness center,” said Joe Rotondi, superintendent of parks, recreation, and public properties for North Bergen. “What we did was we expanded it. We made it a lot bigger. We put ellipticals in, we put stairmasters in. We made it a combination of toning muscles and a cardio area. We have a machine for basically every body part, including two machines for handicap accessibility that people with wheelchairs can utilize.”
He was speaking at the official opening of the facility on April 10. Also in attendance were Mayor Nicholas Sacco and most of the town commissioners.
Equipment in the new fitness center includes weight lifting stations, a cross country ski machine, vertical press and butterfly machines, a leg press, leg curl, lat pull vertical press, and much more.
“It’s all marked and everything,” noted Police Chief Robert Dowd, taking a tour of the facility. “It gives you the instructions, it gives you the targeted muscles you’re working out, it gives you the reps. It’s very explanatory. It’s very user-friendly.”
“The main thing was to make it adaptable for all,” said Rotondi. “It’s not made to blow up the big strong musclemen, it’s made for the average person. Seniors can do this, women can do this, the handicapped can do this.”
Water, food, and kids
Constructed in an eye-searing combination of fire engine red and bright yellow, the fitness center was built next to Bruins Stadium and the running track in the park.
“It sits on an artificial turf surface that has an underground drainage system so the storm water goes straight down,” explained Project Engineer Mike Galante, who designed the venture. “It hits the surface and goes down into the drainage system and then out. It percolates right through the surface.”
Some trees were removed to make more room for expansion. The picnic area now has three new picnic tables and two handicap picnic tables with a handicap ramp. Eight park benches were added along with new decorative fencing, a water fountain, and six new trash receptacles.
Nearby is a concession stand that is open during games. “It’s soccer season now,” said Rotondi, “so every night the concession stand will be open around 5:00 because teams are practicing at night, as well as weekends when events are going on and teams are playing. And if it’s not soccer there are events. There’s also football that goes on here.”
“We built this little kid area because parents usually come with their kids,” said Commissioner of Parks and Recreation Hugo Cabrera. “That way they’ll have a little place while they’re exercising where they can watch their children.”
The playground is for kids ages 2 to 5.
Rotondi initially proposed the project to the mayor and town commissioners, targeting federal funding that needed to be utilized for specific purposes.
“The mayor was all for it. He loved the idea right off the bat,” said Cabreras.
Work began in April of 2013, with an intended finish date of September. That became November when certain equipment arrived damaged, and then the record-setting winter hit, putting everything on hold.
“It was 90 percent done when the weather got bad,” said Town Administrator Chris Pianese. “So we had to finish it up in the spring.”
As to the final cost, Pianese said, “It’s federally funded. All community development grants. There’s no taxpayer money in this at all.”
“The only thing that the mayor made sure was a mandatory was that we keep the historic gazebo,” said Rotondi. “That stays. The gazebo’s been there since the 1980s. It’s been there through three renovations.”
Patrons now enter the fitness center through a gate in the gazebo. The center is available to individuals ages 14 and up.
“It’s pretty much open 10 months out of the year,” said Rotondi. “The stadium’s open from 7:30 in the morning till 10:00 at night. Except for winter months, when it snows. It is open in the wintertime when there’s no snow on the ground.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.