Demand for Playing Fields Prompts Stevenson Park Development Proposal

September 17, 2018
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By Chris Rotolo |

MIDDLETOWN – Young township athletes on both sides of the north-south dividing line have grown up watching local football stars like Knowshon Moreno, Scott Simonsen and Rick Lovato compete in Super Bowls, and looked on as Donald Glenn led his High School North Lions to a state championship game in 2016.

These outstanding feats have inspired a generation of Middletown kids to take up the sport of football, but increasing concerns over long-term damage to the developing brain have caused parents to steer their children toward flag football.

According to Mayor Kevin M. Settembrino, Middletown’s flag football registrations surged to upward of 550 participants in 2017, but that enrollment dropped to just above 300 players this season after the league’s designated fields at Thompson Middle School were selected for capital improvements and restricted.

Settembrino said the demands for more township fields in one centralized location has never been more evident and is a primary driver behind a recent proposal from township administrator Anthony P. Mercantante for the development of the 131-acre tract of West Front Street land known as Stevenson Park.

“We were forced to split games and practices over two different sites and we saw the registration drop significantly because of that. We’d like to not see our players displaced again. To ensure that doesn’t happen we need more fields that are owned and operated by the township,” Settembrino said in a Sept. 10 interview with The Two River Times.

“This is one of the last places we can go where you can put a meaningful group of fields together to address the significant demand we have for fields,” Mercantante added. “There just isn’t a lot of space left to create fields. Most parks are developed. And a lot of the undeveloped green space and undeveloped portions of parks are sensitive areas with wetlands and constrained environmentally,” Mercantante added.

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According to the proposal, development would occur in four phases as needed, with the construction of nine possible fields. The first phase of the project calls for the construction of two fields, including a smaller pitch measuring 300 yards by 240 yards, and a large field with 240-by-400-yard dimensions, as well as a gravel a parking lot separating the two. Additional fields and parking lots can be built over time as needed.

Mercantante estimates the cost of Phase 1 to be between $1 and $1.5 million, which includes funding for necessary grading and secondary growth and weed removal, as well as grass seeding and the construction of an irrigation system for proper draining of the facilities. The design also includes the construction of an underground fresh water well which will eliminate the costs to run public water to the site.

To help offset costs the township is applying for a $250,000 grant from the Monmouth County Open Space Program. If the proposal is accepted, the grant requires a dollar for dollar match from the municipality, which Mercantante said would occur in the 2019 capital budget.

The development of Stevenson Park is also viewed as a means to make the township’s park maintenance operation more efficient, as well as a way to make the lives of local parents a little bit easier.

“Parents hate single-field locations because most of them have more than one child playing, meaning they have to be in multiple locations at once,” Mercantante said. “Putting multiple fields in one place also helps our efficiency to maintain them. We have 10 locations around town where there’s just one field. That’s incredibly inefficient for our maintenance crews, who sometimes spend more time on the road driving to fields than they do working on them.”

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Mercantante added that with the addition of the Stevenson Park fields, the township may be able to eliminate some of those single-field locations, depending on the future demand.

Aside from flag football, the township plans to line these fields for lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and even rugby. However, there will be no hard surfaces courts or rinks built on the tract and no field lighting provided, as this will be a dawn-to-dusk location.

This article was first published in the Sept. 13 – 19, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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