On Thursday night, neighbors of Maplecrest Park in Maplewood discussed the pros and cons of reintroducing basketball courts to the park, and the pros seemed to outweigh the cons.
It was an initial meeting, hosted by the Maplewood Recreation Advisory Committee and held at the Hilton Branch of the Maplewood Library. Township Committee liaison Greg Lembrich led the meeting with the help of Heather Saslovsky, a rec advisory committee member.
Lembrich and Saslovsky noted that the meeting marked the beginning of a potential project and that everything was open to discussion.
There are currently three tennis courts on the edge of the park near residences on Boyden Parkway. The courts fell into disrepair due to damage sustained by Superstorm Sandy. Lembrich noted that, even though it has been four years since the devastating, 100-year-storm, the town and its Department of Public Works are still recovering.
Now, said Lembrich, the town is looking at using Open Space Trust Fund dollars to refurbish the area and the Rec Advisory Committee thought it would be appropriate to look at several scenarios for the courts — possibly converting some to basketball courts and/or a tennis hitting wall.
Although one neighbor said she was very interested in the tennis courts being restored in full, many neighbors voiced support for the return of basketball courts or a court in some form.
Oakview Avenue resident Walter Fields picked up on Lembrich’s point that there are 12 public tennis courts throughout town and only two public basketball courts (located in Memorial Park) and said that his daughter, who played basketball, was often unable to get playing time on the Memorial Park courts which are dominated by men.
Many neighbors expressed concern about the potential for noise and language from the basketball courts. A Boyden Parkway neighbor and another Oakview Avenue neighbor felt that the tennis court location was too close to houses and could impinge on privacy if converted to an actively used basketball court.
However, Coach Dave Berry of the South Mountain YMCA posited the idea of monitoring the courts (South Orange Village Township hires the Y to monitor their basketball courts at high usage times to ensure good behavior and fair use — making certain that kids and women get equal time with men).
In addition, Lt. Albert Sally and Sgt. Joseph Guglielmo of the Maplewood Police said that there had been little trouble reported at the basketball courts at Memorial Park or at the skateboard park at Maplecrest. “We are not getting a lot of calls,” said Guglielmo, who admitted he was pleasantly surprised after the skatepark went in and was expanded.
Lt. Sally pointed out that, since Maplecrest Park now closes at dusk, that does and will continue to help with controlling any behavior issues.
Still, neighbors discussed placing basketball courts further from houses — either in their former location near the water fountain (which is more centrally located) or near the parking lot close to Springfield Avenue. The parking lot location seemed more popular since it took basketball players out of the range of the softball fields.
Overall, there was broad acknowledgment of the need for more basketball courts.
Maplewood resident Francis Nicolas said he needed to move his King Street basketball program to Millburn due to the lack of local courts (find King Street at www.kingsaau.com) and said that many South Orange and Maplewood players continue to come to Millburn to play in his program. A College Hill mom noted that not every kid can access a league and said that free courts were important especially to lower income children. She also noted that more neighbors were coming soon with the construction of new apartment buildings.
“There are problems — noise, trash — but on balance we do need an outlet for kids,” said the mother.
In a separate but related issue, a number of attendees noted that the lights at the platform paddle courts and tennis courts on Valley were on at night, but not the lights at the basketball courts, despite the fact that Memorial Park is open until 10:30 p.m.
Lembrich and Melissa Mancuso, the acting recreation director for the town, agreed that turning the lights on at Memorial Park could be looked into and perhaps resolved in short order. Lt. Sally and Sgt. Guglielmo said that, although they did not speak on behalf of the department, they didn’t see an issue with that request as there were few, if any, complaints about the Memorial Park courts.
The idea that basketball courts attract out-of-town users was also addressed at the meeting.
One resident asked if there was a way to reserve courts for residents. Lembrich replied, “No, we can’t discriminate…. That’s a matter of law.”
Oakview neighbor Walter Fields countered, “The majority of those kids are our kids — but they do have friends in other communities.” Fields named Newark, Irvington, Union. “That’s what community is about…. Let’s serve all the kids in the community.”
There was also an acknowledgment that the old court was removed because “it got noisy.” But police and residents alike agreed last night that, with the new police station on the perimeter of the park, and with the enforcement of the dusk park closure, no-one should “assume there will be problems” with reintroducing basketball courts.
At the close of the meeting, Lembrich said there would be many more meetings to come and that, realistically, the soonest that courts could be built would be next year. He thanked neighbors for the “great feedback tonight” and noted, “This is just the start.”
Click on photos to enlarge: