20 May ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO ANNOUNCES MODERNIZATION OF JAMES ‘JIM’ WALLACE PLAYGROUND IN ESSEX COUNTY WEST SIDE PARK Playground will be designed with a Magnolia Tree Theme and Relocated to in Front of Community Center to Enhance Safety and Accessibility
Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced plans on Friday, May 20th to modernize the James “Jim” Wallace Playground in Essex County West Side Park. The playground will be relocated to a more publicly visible area in front of the West Side Park Community Center and be upgraded with new apparatus and a rubberized safety surface. It will be designed with a magnolia theme, which connects to the park’s history when West Side was known for its magnolia trees.
“Essex County West Side Park, with the community center, recreation facilities and the playground, is the focal point of the neighborhood where residents and children gather with friends to socialize and play. The new, more visible location of the playground in front of the community center will help enhance safety, and the modern equipment will provide young adventurers with first-class equipment,” DiVincenzo said. “Making sure the playgrounds in all of our parks meet current safety standards and provide our children with challenging apparatus to play and climb has been an ongoing priority of my administration. And incorporating the magnolia theme into the playground’s design will remind future generations about West Side Park’s rich history,” he added.
Elected officials and members of the community were looking forward to the playground improvements.
“The County Executive started an initiative years ago to engage the community and create partnerships to improve the parks. The best part is to hear the vision and come back later and see children playing,” NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said. “What’s also special is that the historical context of the parks is recognized and maintain while the renovations create modern facilities that meet the current needs of the community,” she added.
“This park has had its challenges, but today it has become the focal point of the community and looks demonstrably different than it did 14 years ago,” Assembly Speaker Emeritus Sheila Oliver said. “The improved playground will enhance the park and neighborhood,” she added.
“I couldn’t miss this announcement because it’s our County Executive doing another great thing for our community,” Newark Councilman Joe McCallum said.
“This is another great project being done by our County Executive. Moving the playground to in front of the building will facilitate our mission of keeping this park safe because it will be easier to observe what is happening inside,” Sheriff Armando Fontoura said.
“I don’t think our County Executive will ever run out of ideas to make our parks and Essex County better. This will be an exceptional playground for our children to enjoy,” Freeholder Patricia Sebold said.
“It is hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since we dedicated the playground to my husband James. Joe has been faithful to making this park great,” International Youth Organization President Carolyn Wallace said. “
“Under the County Executive’s leadership, great things are happening in West Side Park. I really am looking forward to when this playground opens,” said Armstead Johnson, Executive Director of the United Community Corporation, which provides recreation services at the West Side Park Community Center.
“Improvements that the County makes in West Side Park have a positive impact on the quality of life for our residents,” West Side Park Conservancy President Sheila Pitts said. “I want to thank County Executive DiVincenzo for turning this park into a premiere location. When he took office, he said he would take care of West Side Park and he has kept his commitment,” she added.
The focal point of the playground has been dubbed “Magnolia Hill,” a raised location in the center of the playground with a large cargo net climber and butterfly net climber; ladybug, monarch and inchworm figures on which to sit and climb; and giant flower shade structures resembling magnolias. The age appropriate area for children ages 5 to 12 years includes slides, traditional climbing apparatus, swings, a merry-go-round and miniature zip line. The age appropriate area for children ages 2 to 5 years includes slides, traditional climbing apparatus and swings. Water misters and a spray area will be located adjacent to the community center. The entire playground will be fenced in to prevent young children from wandering and the old arched gateway at the entrance to the James Wallace Playground will be relocated to the entrance of the new one. The safety surface and play equipment will be purple and yellow in color to connect to the magnolia theme and magnolia trees will be planted around the perimeter of the playground.
A significant change is the location of the playground in the park. It will be moved from behind the Community Building to a more publicly visible spot in front of the building next to the parking lot. The new site will enhance safety of children, and its proximity next to the parking lot makes it easily accessible.
Arterial Design Studio from Montclair received a $45,500 contract to design the new playground. Shauger Property Services from East Orange was awarded a publicly bid contract for $901,717 to perform the construction. The Essex County Department of Public Works will monitor the project and answer questions to avoid delays. The new playground is being funding with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.
The playground was last upgraded in 2002 by the previous county administration. It was dedicated in honor of James “Jim” Wallace, the late founder of the International Youth Organization in Newark, in 2006. One of the largest minority-led youth and community based organizations in New Jersey, IYO currently offers the Youth Leadership Development Program, which provides tutoring, recreation and educational trips for boys and girls ages 5 to 14, and the New Jersey Youth Corps, which assists high school drop outs ages 16 to 25. A role model and mentor to generations of young people, Mr. Wallace continued to lead the IYO and remained active in the community until he passed away on October 6, 2005. Mr. Wallace also was the longtime Chairman of the Newark Central Ward Democratic Committee and used this leadership position to become an advocate for the improvement of the quality of life for residents throughout Essex County.
Revitalizing Essex County West Side Park
Essex County West Side Park has received about $7 million worth of improvements during the DiVincenzo administration. Phase I improvements in 2004 included repairing the tennis courts, building new basketball courts, installing sports lighting at the tennis and basketball courts, constructing a 22-car parking lot, revamping the main park entrance for better access, renovating restroom facilities near the tennis courts, and upgrading the park entrances along 17th Street. The next two phases in 2006 included installing a synthetic grass football field and rubberized track, and conducting a major aesthetic renovation of the lower section of the park. Also in 2006, the West Side Park Community Center gymnasium was upgraded with a new wooden floor and fresh coat of paint. In the spring of 2007, the New Jersey Tree Foundation beautified the park by planting 40 new trees inside the park and along the park’s perimeter. A $2.3 million project to install a synthetic grass baseball field and renovate the locker room and rest room facilities was completed in November 2007. In 2009, a new spray park with climbing apparatus and a synthetic safety surface was developed. In 2015, the Community Center received a complete renovation with new flooring, windows, doors, HVAC system and lighting.
Essex County Executive DiVincenzo has partnered with the New Jersey Green Acres program, the Amelior Foundation, MCJ Foundation, the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund Advisory Board, West Side Park Conservancy, Tri-Cities Peoples Organization, United Community Corporation, the Boys and Girls Club of Newark and the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development to secure grants to fund the improvements made to Essex County West Side Park.
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, golf driving range, two miniature golf courses, three off-leash dog facilities, a castle and the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens. West Side Park is located on 31.36 acres of land in Newark’s Central Ward and is the ninth-largest park in the County’s system. Land for the park was acquired in 1895 and West Side Park was one of the original five parks in the Essex system.