Olivia Moran, 5, of Hoboken has a complaint about Church Square Park in the center of town. She quietly gave her opinion to 6th Ward Councilman Nino Giacchi at a public hearing on park improvements Thursday night in City Hall, and Giacchi vocalized it more loudly for the public.
“Olivia doesn’t like the concrete under the swings,” he said. “It hurts you, right? We’ll take care of that too.”
The meeting was held so that a group of parents called “Project Play” and other park users could talk to city officials about their ideas for improving Hoboken’s most central recreational area.
Church Square Park, which sprawls over two city blocks adjacent to the historic Our Lady of Grace Church at Fourth and Willow, offers play areas for toddlers and older children, basketball courts, a gazebo for concerts, shade trees, benches, and a dog run with sections for both big and small dogs.
But many parents are concerned over what they say are the park’s outdated playground equipment.
“What concerns me is that Church Square Park is a very historic, green natural park.” – Dan Tumpson
The initiative is the brainchild of two Hoboken parents, Zabrina Stoffel and Regina Gannon.
Giacchi, who is the chairman of the City Council’s Quality-of-Life Subcommittee, opened the meeting Thursday night. But he quickly turned the floor over to Stoffel, who outlined a proposal from Project Play, featuring color posters showing a professional rendering of a suggested playground layout.
Stofel explained the need for comprehensive playground renovation by using swings as an example. “We’ve heard from parents and kids of all ages that there are not enough swings,” she said. “There’s always a line [to use them].” And she said the current swings are not in good condition.
Project Play wants any new play areas to remain accessible to users with disabilities. Stoffel reported that the safety straps on the two swings intended to be disability-compatible are broken.
Not just for kids
Stoffel was proactive in deflecting potential criticisms of the proposal, stating that Project Play wanted to ensure that the park continues as a haven for all citizens. In the past, some park users have complained that trees were chopped down or other changes were made to accommodate children at the expense of adults who enjoy the park for passive relaxation.
“We found as we were talking to people and visiting other parks this concept called ‘community building’,” Stoffel said. “...having benches, picnic tables so people can just sit down and relax, it doesn’t have to be people with kids.”
She also discussed guarding against cutting down trees unnecessarily and even planting new grass or bushes where possible. She proposed that the new equipment should blend with the natural earth tones of a park landscape and reiterated that Project Play seeks only to renovate and not alter the overall park footprint.
Ideas and drawbacks
After Stoffel spoke, Giacchi opened the floor to audience comments.
Olivia Moran, the 5-year-old, gave her opinion on the swings, and several parents said their children had been hurt using the playground equipment. One mother said she considers the playground dangerous and doesn’t like her kids playing in that park.
David Liebler, founder of a local restaurant recommendation website, was eager to get at least some of the proposal approved soon to encourage residents to begin fundraising efforts.
“The fundraising effort will be 10 times more effective knowing that this isn’t a mystical thing that’s going to happen in 10 years,” he said. “If in six months we can get this part done...let’s go.”
A previous meeting about renovating the park back in May had veered into a heated discussion. A few residents had claimed that an enhanced playground would be detrimental to those who use the park without children.
At Thursday’s meeting, most of the audience seemed to support upgrading the playground in some capacity, though one speaker, local environmental activist Dan Tumpson, warned that the changes could force unsightly alterations to accommodate cumbersome and costly state regulations.
“It may trigger state laws that require more extensive fencing,” Tumpson cautioned. “There was also some discussion of bright lights and so forth.”
Tumpson said he agrees with the need to replace dangerous equipment, but is also concerned that the new construction would threaten the park’s greenery.
“What concerns me is that Church Square Park is a very historic, green natural park,” he said, “and this has been damaged considerably.”
Stoffel led Project Play’s presentation herself, though her cohort Gannon was in attendance – sort of. Just that morning, Gannon had given birth to a baby boy, but to show her commitment to renovating Church Square Park, she listened to the meeting via speakerphone.
As Stoffel held up her cellphone, the new mom greeted the audience with a cheerful, “Hi, everybody!”
Project Play will continue to revise its proposal. Residents can view sketches and offer ideas at the group’s website, http://hobokenfamily.com/projectplay/. The city will consider incorporating aspects from the Project Play proposal and from other public sources, and will hold a future meeting to finalize a formal plan.
Giacchi alluded to the possibly of the city contributing some funding, though he didn’t expressly promise it.