Parents unhappy with closures, conditions at public park

Parents living in Verona want to see improved accessibility and conditions at the borough’s largest park.

“Everyone wants a public place to play, that’s how you build community, by having communal spaces, and to have one blocked off, really with no reason, with tax dollars going toward it, is really frustrating,” said Ashten Farah.

Farah lives just a block from Cribbs Field, and says she and other parents are frequently disappointed to see the amenity fully or partially closed. It comprises a playground, pavilion, playing fields and more.

“Forty to sixty percent of the time, the gates are closed, and when we ask why, we don’t have any answers,” she said. “It really varies on the day, sometimes if we call down and complain, they’ll say ‘okay, well we opened the playground for you or we opened the basketball courts, but nothing else is open,’ or vice versa.’”

Channel 11 dropped by the borough building and spoke with Borough Manager Stefanie Woolford. She told us that the park is locked each night for safety reasons, and will be opened each morning around 7 a.m. moving forward for the season.

“If somebody goes down there and it’s not open right now at this point in time, call, either myself at the administrative building or... call 911 and one of our police officers will come open it,” Woolford said.

As for the intermittent closures over the last few months, Woolford blamed the wet weather we’ve faced.

“I know it’s hard because it’s such a big field and you want your kids to be able to run around, but, the field does not open until March 1st, and unfortunately, this year, it just rained, it rained all of March, all of April, so that’s where we were at,” Woolford said. “Some parts of the field don’t drain very well so we didn’t want anything to happen to the fields.”

Woolford said that the borough is exploring grant opportunities to fix the drainage issues.

Channel 11 spotted a few instances of ponding on the fields following the overnight rainfall on Tuesday. Parents say that the drainage issue and overall condition of the field is an added disappointent.

“The grass won’t be mowed, or it will be mowed right before a game and it’s so tall that it’s up to their knees, the in-field is covered with grass, it just can be really, not a nice experience. And I know that I’m paying tax dollars for things to be nice, we live on a beautiful street, and it’s a little frustrating that we could go a half a mile away and everything is pristine, and we can’t have the same standards here,” said Farah.

Woolford told us that the borough signed an active contract to share maintenance responsibilities with Riverview Athletic Association (RAA) in 2018, wherein the RAA is in charge of the in-fields and the diamonds, and the borough handles other areas of the field.

She stated that the borough maintains its end of the agreement, with workers routinely inspecting the fields, mowing weekly, weed-whacking and making sure it’s fertilized. The RAA however recently requested to sign a new agreement, and the borough is open to renegotiating, Woolford told us.

“We want to be partners with them,” she said. “My biggest thing in life as a mother is kids playing, my kid played for RAA, I mean we want to make sure everybody has a chance, and this is not where we thought we’d be right now.”

Channel 11 got in touch with RAA President Jeff Barton following our interview with Woolford.

He called this “an unfortunate situation, but an entirely fixable one.”

Barton said that weed control, due to the rainy weather, has become an ongoing challenge that’s caused the improper drainage, resulting in uneven and dangerous in-fields.

“Right now, based on our current agreement with Verona Borough, the RAA is not allowed to manage weeds,” Barton said.

The non-profit is reportedly offering $24,000 to have the in-fields professional repaired as part of the hopeful renegotiation with the borough. The RAA would be willing to manage the weeds, he said.

“All we are looking for is for the borough to waive some fees that would offset part of our investment in making the fields playable,” he said.

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