CLARK, NJ — Oak Ridge Park, which sits on the border of Clark and Edison Township, is scheduled to join the list of costly athletic fields administered by Union County.
The 208 acres of parkland has undergone a history of changes, ranging from its pivotal role in the Revolutionary War — one of several skirmish sites in the Battle of Short Hills — to being a golf course for 80 years; it is now a park of rolling hills that periodically hosts concerts and movie events.
Shortly after the golf course closed in 2009, due to consistent decrease in revenue, the county’s parks and recreation master plan proposed a transformation of the space to include the construction of an ice rink, a multisport complex and additional facilities with price estimates ranging up to $25 million.
In June, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved the shared services agreement between the UCIA and UCC, and the project has been reduced to a running track and athletic field to be shared by the county and Union County College.
The current project entails the construction of a 400-meter, eight-lane track, press box, bleachers, a 3,000-square-foot building, fencing, lighting, and a parking area for 145 cars and approximately four buses. LocalSource requested OPRA records detailing project price estimates, but records were not received by press time this week.
Despite solid proposals for the project, its execution could still be a long way off.
Sebastian D’Elia, who serves as both a UCIA commissioner and the county spokesperson, told LocalSource on Oct. 3 that the UCIA likely will postpone a public hearing regarding the project by the Historic Sites Council.
The HSC reviews state, county, or municipal undertakings listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, which includes Oak Ridge Park.
While the HSC added the project to its Oct. 20 agenda, D’Elia said the UCIA will call for a postponement to “later in the year or push it to next year.”
According to HSC spokesman Larry Hajna, HSC called the meeting to discuss the project’s plan which encroaches on the property’s historic character.
Areas of Oak Ridge Park are believed to have been the site of fighting between British and American forces during the Revolution in 1787. A re-enactment on the 240th anniversary of the battle was staged this summer at the park.
Also located on the property is the Homestead Farm house, built in 1750, which served as the clubhouse for the former golf course there. According to published reports from 2010, the freeholders announced a project for the structural stabilization and preservation of the building. D’Elia confirmed that this revitalization will be part of the new project.
Despite county efforts to keep up Homestead Farm, the HSC said it is not in conformance with its standards.
“When complete, the integrity and historic character of the Homestead Farm at Oak Ridge, most notably the historic view shed from the farmstead toward the northeast area of the property, will be permanently diminished,” HSC spokesman Larry Hajna told LocalSource on Oct. 3. “As a result, the project is not in conformance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and therefore, pursuant to their rules, the project constitutes an encroachment on historic properties.”
Hajna said the council can recommend other alternatives. The HSC commissioner can authorize or consent to the proposed project’s encroachment with conditions, deny the application temporarily based on the need for additional information or deny the application for project authorization with specific reasons.
According to D’Elia, the HSC hearing will be held to address issues pertaining to the athletic field, but the UCIA “is not ready for that.”
The Oak Ridge Park project is not the only recent parks expenditure by the county. During the past several years, the Union County Parks and Recreation Department has spent millions in renovations to it various facilities.
In 2016, the freeholders approved $900,000 to build an indoor riding ring at Watchung Stables, an equestrian facility in Summit.
And two years prior in 2014, the county allowed approximately $3.5 million to be spent on a high school football stadium in Rahway as part of a $5 million project in Rahway River Park. The 2,000-seat football stadium, along with an artificial turf field and running track, was built in spite of significant local opposition.