Union County College Board agrees to look at Oak Ridge Park as possible site for new athletic field

Editor’s note: The following story is an update to a previously posted story concerning Union County College’s plans to build a new athletic field. The original story can be found at the end of this story. A more in-depth and updated story will appear in the July 3 issue of Union County LocalSource.

CRANFORD – Based on a recommendation from a sub-committee, the Union County College Board of Trustees agreed to take a closer look at the county’s offer to use the former Oak Ridge Golf Course property to site the college’s new athletic field.

The decision by the board to look into Oak Ridge Park, offered by the county as an alternative to the field being built on the Cranford campus, came after the Buildings and Grounds Committee recommended the board develop necessary plans to place the athletic field at the former golf course.

However, despite reports to the contrary, the board did not agree to construct the athletic field there, nor give the go ahead to do so.

In fact, from the wording of the motion approved by the board, it was apparent they were formally accepting the offer of the Oak Ridge property as a possible location while also approving the college chief financial officer to look at the feasibility of this option.

It also seemed to surprise Board Chairman Victor Richel that the county would not be footing the bill for the construction of an athletic field.

“I did hear for the first time we are not getting a completely paid for facility,” Richel said.

Prior to that, during the public comment portion of the meeting, Union County Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski made it clear where the county stood on this particular issue.

“I do want to clarify one thing. There has been talk that we are paying for the construction of the athletic field. We have offered land and will support development,” said the freeholder who lives in Cranford.

Prior to the board voting on the measure, several board members expressed concern because the county had not presented “a more concrete proposal” offering the Oak Ridge land or financial help.

Richel quickly countered this, pointing out the college and freeholders have had an excellent history.

“I would say our relationship with the freeholders has been excellent. When they have budget constraints, they still manage to find money for us,” the board chairman said, adding that this year alone the county provided the college with $23 million dollars.

Prior to the board voting, more than 200 hundred Cranford and Westfield residents and officials gave a standing ovation to the sub-committee that recommended the athletic field be located at the former golf course in Clark.

From comments made by residents and elected officials of Cranford and Westfield, it was apparent most felt there was little likelihood the field would be build anywhere on the Cranford campus, an idea which has been strongly supported by Union County College President Margaret McMenamin.

Oak Ridge Park is located on Featherbed Lane in Clark, which borders Colonia in Middlesex County. It is buffered by upscale homes and a swim club, all of which are located in quiet neighborhoods.

Editors Note: The following story about Union County College’s plan to build a new athletic field was previously posted on Union News Daily and will appear in the June 26, 2014 issue of Union County LocalSource.

CRANFORD – A final decision on where the new Union County College athletic field ends up was expected to be decided in the evening on Tuesday, June 24, by the Board of Trustees.

At issue is whether the board will opt to house the college’s athletic field at Union County-owned Oak Ridge Park in Clark, which was offered by the county as an alternative to constructing it on college-owned property in Cranford.

An athletic field on the Cranford college campus has been vehemently opposed by residents living adjacent to the proposed site, which is located at the rear of the campus and within 100 feet of private homes.

The county college announced plans to build the athletic field in late March, but residents, elected officials and township professionals believe it will be a nightmare if it comes to fruition.

The proposed $1.4 million project for a combined soccer and lacrosse field with a six-lane track that runs along Gallows Hill Road became the subject of controversy after residents mounted an all-out effort to stop the venture cold.

Although college officials tried to forestall the concerns of residents and town officials by explaining the athletic field was “not the Meadowlands,” but merely a turf field with a track and field and bleachers for 100 people, residents began rallying for support and informing the county of their concerns. In turn, both the township and county issued resolutions suggesting it would be better for the college to look for alternative sites.

Of concern to Union County College President Margaret McMenamin was that teams were practicing and playing games in 10 different locations across the county, which was not what the college wanted for their athletes.

The college president also pointed out that, even though residents and elected officials had concerns about flooding and the environment, the proposed plan would actually improve ground water retention and drainage at the college.

After residents continued to voice concerns, in early April, the college announced it was postponing any plans to locate the field on campus, citing the many concerns expressed by residents and elected officials as the reason behind the change of heart. Residents living in the area of the college, however, were not convinced school officials were abandoning plans for a field located on campus.

Meanwhile, the county met with college representatives in an attempt to relocate the “field of dreams,” ultimately suggesting that Oakridge Park in Clark might be the perfect place for the new field. Although rumors began to surface that the college was not cooperating with the county, this turned out not to be true.

Nevertheless, the topic of whether the college would actually opt to construct the field at a location other than the college campus began to resurface several weeks ago.

Residents claimed that, while the county offered McMenamin the Oak Ridge Park location, it was still looking to construct the field on campus. They backed up this accusation by pointing out the college president had not been truthful about her negotiations with the county.

According to information obtained from resident Felicia Van Ostenbridge, spokesperson for Union County Neighbors United, McMenamin said the offer to have exclusive use of Oak Ridge Park by the Union County Freeholder Board came with a deadline of Saturday, June 21, to respond, but that was not true.

County officials confirmed they never set a deadline for the college president to respond to their offer and Stephen Nacco, Union County College executive assistant to the president, as well as vice president of administrative services, also spoke to this circulating rumor.
“I can refute that Dr. McMenamin never said the county gave her a deadline,” he said Monday, June 23, adding that the county never discussed or mentioned a deadline.

While Nacco did not know what direction the Board of Trustees was going with a location for the field, he mentioned that the Board of Governors will be “consulting on the issue prior to the Board of Trustee meeting at 7 p.m.

In the meantime, residents sent out emails and 3,000 fliers into the community containing information about the meeting, imploring residents to come out to the meeting on Tuesday, June 24, to let the board know they are against the field being constructed on campus. They also mentioned that they will be picketing prior to the board voting at 7 p.m.

In their fliers and emails, Union County Neighbors United contend the Board of Trustees “has not been inclined to respond to questions, release documents to the community at large” and has discounted the alternative site in Clark offered by the county.

“Active citizenship will be practiced and Cranford residents are anxious as to the impact of future flooding. The Union County College president and Board of Trustees have not performed their due diligence as a good neighbor to Cranford residents nor the facts at hand,” one email read, noting that “failing to plan is failing to plan.”

“In this case, it may be residents of Cranford who may pay for the failure of this project for years to come, if indeed approved and built. I say may, as no environmental impact study nor any studies have been represented as having occurred,” said Van Ostenbridge.