21 Oct ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO ANNOUNCES OPENING OF NEW PLAYGROUND IN ESSEX COUNTY BRANCH BROOK PARK Cherry Blossom-themed Facility is First Playground in Branch Brook Park’s Northern Division

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Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced the opening of a new playground by the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center in Essex County Branch Brook Park on Friday, October 16th. The playground, which is designed with a Cherry Blossom theme and features equipment for children ages 2 to 12 years old, is the first playground to be located in Branch Brook Park’s Northern Division.

“More and more children are being attracted to this section of the park because of the opening of the Children’s Garden by the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center or because they are students at nearby Park Elementary School. Developing a new playground here gives children an exciting place to play and exercise and provides another opportunity to enjoy this open space,” DiVincenzo said.

Joining the County Executive at the playground opening were NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor-Marin, Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Freeholder Rolando Bobadilla, Newark Councilman Carlos Quintana and Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Estevez.

The playground is located adjacent to the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center and the new Children’s Garden that was opened in 2014. It is designed with a cherry blossom theme to match the famous Japanese flowering trees in Essex County Branch Brook Park. A main feature of the playground are play figures in the shapes of lions and lion cubs on which children will be able to climb. There are playground apparatus and swing sets appropriate for children ages 2 to 5 and ages 5 to 12, the entire playground has a rubberized safety surface and the facility is enclosed with a fence. The project also includes the installation of benches, trash receptacles and drinking fountains. Work started in June and was completed is just four months.

Pennoni Associates from Edison received a $51,950 contract to design the playground. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $603,200 to construct the facility. The Essex County Public Works Department monitored the project to answer questions and avoid delays. The playground was funded with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

Revitalizing Essex County’s Branch Brook Park

The Branch Brook Park Alliance has been the primary partner with Essex County to revitalize Branch Brook Park, which opened in 1895. The Alliance is a public/private partnership organized in 1999 to provide design expertise and funding support to help Essex County restore and revitalize the park. During the last 15 years, more than $50 million of upgrades have been made throughout the Park. Park enhancements have been supported with grants from corporations, the New Jersey Green Acres program, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, philanthropic organizations and community members. In addition, the Alliance has sponsored a variety of programs to clean the waterways, spruce up the park, maintain the cherry tree collection, develop an urban farm, among other activities.

The Barbara Bell Coleman Welcome Center and Concourse Hill upgrades, along with the opening of a two-mile, synthetic surface walking track, renovation of a well in the Park’s Northern Division, the rehabilitation of the Reservoir Walls in the Park’s Southern Division and modernization of the Clifton Avenue basketball courts were completed in 2014. The bronze statue honor the late tennis legend Althea Gibson was dedicated and the 20-court tennis complex named in her honor received a complete makeover in March 2012 and the field house in the tennis complex was renovated in July 2012. The total cost of the tennis court upgrades was $1.5 million.

A multi-phase project to upgrade the lakefront in the Southern Division was completed in April 2012. It included the restoration of the historic Prudential Lions statues and balustrade, the rehabilitation of two buildings for restrooms and public meeting space, updating the music court with new pavers and landscaping. Recently, the Prudential Lions statues were dedicated to retired Prudential Chairman and CEO Arthur Ryan and his wife Pat, Co-Chair of the Branch Brook Park Alliance, for their dedication to restoring the Park. The music court overlooking the lake was dedicated as the “Prudential Concert Grove” to recognize the corporation’s ongoing support to restore the Park, and a memorial cherry tree grove was rededicated in honor of Kiyofumi Sakaguchi, who was President and CEO of Prudential International Insurance at the time of his death. The four phases cost approximately $3.1 million and were funded with a contribution from Prudential Financial and grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

The renovation of the historic Octagon Fieldhouse in the Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex cost $423,900 and was completed in April 2011. Completed in 2010 were a $926,000 project to pave the park roadway, upgrade walking paths, and install historic lighting in the section of the park from the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center to Heller Parkway, the planting of 600 Cherry Trees and other trees throughout Branch Brook Park as part of a $416,889 upgrade and the paving of the park roadway from Mill Street to Washington Street as part of a $680,000 project.

In September 2009, the Middle Division Recreation Complex was renamed as the “Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex,” in honor of the founder of The North Ward Center and Robert Treat Academy. In August 2009, a synthetic surface football/soccer field was constructed for $917,662 and named after NFL Hall of Famer and Barringer High School alumni Andre Tippett. Earlier in 2009, a $2.46 million facelift in the Branch Brook Park Extension was completed. This “demonstration project” enhanced landscaping, added Cherry Trees, improved pathways and modernized entranceways into the park from Franklin Avenue. In addition, a $3 million project to rehabilitate the Bloomfield Avenue Bridge that passes over the Middle Division was finished in April 2009.

An $840,000 renovation of the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center was finished in April 2008 and the building was transformed into a year-round showplace to raise awareness about the Japanese Flowering Cherry Blossom Trees. A replica of the historic Octagon Shelter in the Southern Division of Essex County Branch Brook Park was built for $353,510 and opened in November 2007 and $1.5 million was invested to modernize and reconfigure the baseball field complex known as the “three diamonds” in October 2007. The baseball/softball complex in the Branch Brook Park Middle Division was reopened in April 2005 after an $11 million remediation and modernization project, and the historic restoration of the Park Avenue Bridge was completed in 2005. Entrance enhancements, new fencing and landscaping along Clifton Avenue and Mill Street, and a major improvement project along Lake Street have made the park more inviting.

The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 22 parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, Treetop Adventure Course, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three public golf courses, a miniature golf course, golf driving range, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. Branch Brook Park was created in 1895 and is the first park in Essex County’s system. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest county park in Essex.