Making Strides in Parks & Rec

Providing quality services to our children is an essential function in our borough. A successful recreation program and vibrant public spaces ensure that families want to invest in South River and raise a family here. And the success of those programs increases demand for wanting to move into the borough, driving property values higher for all.

As a result, working to build new efforts within our existing Recreation Department and strengthening existing ones should be a shared value of residents. Put simply, providing a high quality of life to all of our residents makes South River a more attractive place to live.  Much of this year has been spent trying to better understand the way our Recreation Department operates on a daily basis and to find ways to supplement our existing infrastructure. We wanted to share with you some updates of our efforts this year and where we’re headed next year. In addition, we welcome you to join the conversation at the Recreation Advisory Board meeting tonight, October 3, at 55 Reid Street beginning at 7PM.

Improving the dialogue

We’ve launched several initiatives this year to provide better notice of programs being run in the Borough. The Monthly Buzz provides details of upcoming events and we have a variety of ideas in the coming months to further improve information disbursement to our residents.

Complimenting the Monthly Buzz, we’ve been building a social media presence that, while in its infancy, has enabled the Borough to reach our audience in new and different ways.

In order to improve our existing programs, all of our residents must first know about them! This is why these efforts have been so important as we begin to rethink how recreation can be a more central part of all of our residents lives.

We’re adding a new initiative today, an online survey to provide us with a better understanding of what our residents want. We encourage you to take the survey to provide your feedback as we aim to address challenges we’ve experienced over the past several years. We see this as an important step to providing improved services and hope to make this a much more regular thing going forward.

Seeking volunteers

Volunteers can be found in many different roles throughout the South River Recreation System. Every year, the steadfast support of our volunteers contributes to the success of recreation programs, special events, and facilities.

Volunteers are the heart and spirit of the South River Recreation System. They contribute their time and talents to Coach our youth, keep the parks beautiful, and provide enriching and healthy recreational activities for the public to enjoy. These efforts are critical to the operation of our town.

The Borough is committed to rethinking how it fosters and welcomes our volunteers and will be exploring new efforts in 2018 to retain, support, and thank our volunteers.  If you have ever thought about getting involved or were involved in the past, we believe it might be worthwhile to giving it another thought.  Share your time and talents and become a member of our Volunteer Staff! Reach out to our Recreation Department if you might be interested.

Parks Improvements

Capital investment into our parks and public spaces have not been a top priority in previous years and the Borough is beginning to change that. This year, $50,000 was added to the budget to address infrastructural issues at our parks to begin rejuvenating them. Our Department of Public Works works incredibly hard throughout the year to keep our parks in working order and it is the job of the management within the borough to ensure that the appropriate capital is available for the department to make critical improvements to keep our children safe. Things such as replacing fibar, repairing playgrounds, replacing old fencing and benches, reframing playground areas, and keeping fields properly maintained cannot be done if there’s no money in the budget to do them.

You might have noticed some of these improvements this year, but after years of underinvestment into these spaces, it’s going to take more than one year to get everything back to the way they should be.

Some of these issues require a larger strategy, as our initial investments have not solved the problem. We’re committed to solving drainage issues and field quality at our many playing fields around the borough.  We’ve begun conversations between the Recreation Advisory Committee, the Finance Committee, the Borough Engineer, and the Department of Public Works to address these larger issues in the year ahead and realize that despite a Department of Public Works full of skilled workers, not everything can be solved inhouse. The conversations of the Recreation Advisory Committee over the next several months will be focused on topics like these, to develop a plan of action that can be executed  as soon as Spring breaks.

Summer Recreation

This year, the Borough ran a pilot to provide an extended day recreation program in the borough, working in partnership with the Raritan Valley YMCA. Pilots are our chance to experiment and learn from the experience. We’ve learned several notable things this year and are committed to improving upon the program going forward to provide a real solution to parents looking for a full-day recreation program for their children in the summer. To begin, we want to provide an improved transportation option and a program that starts even earlier in the morning, to accommodate parents that must leave early in the morning. We’re currently having these discussions and welcome your feedback and participation.

Online Registration Coming Soon

The Borough laid the foundation this year for major technology improvements that are being deployed in a number of ways. One of the things we’ve been committed to all year long is the development of a solution for making registration for recreation and other programs much easier. Later this year and throughout 2018, we’ll start the push to move our forms and registrations online. This process requires coordination of a many entities and so we’ll be working hard to bring as many of these processes online as soon as we possibly can. Our first focus is to move recreation registration and payment online to make signups easier and more efficient for families. Look for FILE•it to launch in Q4 of 2017.

Community Center: Beginning the Dialogue

The Youth Leadership Program we launched this year demonstrated that our youth want to get involved and give back to South River. We’ve begun to work with young leaders to identify things important to them. One of our interns, Miguel Ribau, has begun the conversation about the need for a Community Center in the Borough. There are a tremendous number of logistical challenges that exist in order to make this effort a reality, but we’ve begun the dialogue and are currently thinking of creative ways to leverage our existing services in order to address this very real concern for our youth. We’d love to hear your feedback about this idea and welcome new faces to lead our Borough with addressing real resident needs.

If you haven’t yet taken our online survey, we encourage you to participate. It’s the only way we learn how to improve.

Not Forgetting About Adults and Seniors

Recreation isn’t something just for children. Our borough provides a lot of other activities to provide enjoyment for our residents young and old. We brought back the Independence Day Fireworks this year. We’re looking to launch a Summer Arts Series next summer. We have additional ideas to provide memorable events for all residents. We also need to look at how we can better provide services for our aging population. This year was pivotal to get many of these conversations off the ground. Next year we hope to expand upon all of these efforts. But without volunteer support and feedback from our residents, we’re limited in what we can accomplish. You can make South River the town you want it to be and especially if you’re a new face with a new idea, we want to hear from you!

Roads Program 2017, Phase I

As many of you are likely aware, this year’s municipal budget includes moneys dedicated to road pavings.  Over the previous two years, no roads were paved using borough funds (although the County and State did provide paving services to South River in 2015 and 2016. Montgomery Street was completed earlier this summer through a borough contract that was fully covered by a Department of Transportation grant.)

This year, we will be paving roads in two phases, the first will be utilizing borough funds to pay the county for use of their paving equipment and labor through a program they provide that is designed to offer savings to borough residents. This process has already been initiated and should begin once they finish up their current project.  Because only certain items quality under their program, for the second phase, we will be going out to bid for paving work.

Our Borough Engineer conducted an evaluation of roads in the borough earlier this year and provided a report to the governing body, making recommendations based upon a need assessment.  This assessment aimed to identify the roads around the borough that were in most critical need of being repaired.

Based upon this assessment, we were informed of 11 roads that were deemed in the most need of milling and repaving.

Based upon these findings, the first phase of our 2017 roads program will begin in the near future, as we become closer in the queue on the County’s list.  The milling, paving, and painting services will be conducted on the following roads:

  • Brook Street
  • Jeffrie Avenue
  • George Street (Wilcox Avenue to Thomas Street)

Because our roads program was nonexistent in 2015 and 2016 and the fact that roads still deteriorate over time, even when no program exists, the governing body determined that it was appropriate to make up for past years by increasing the investment into this program.  As a result, we have moneys available in our Capital Expenditures budget to pave roads as well.  We are currently in the process of evaluating which of the remaining roads on this list fit into our budget so that they can also be completed later this year.

We will provide an update to you when we have information regarding this second phase.  The recent council meetings have discussed these items and are included in the Agendas. We’ll have more soon. Stay tuned.

What We Worked On This Summer

With school back in session, we thought we’d share with you a few of the things we’ve been working on this summer. We’re excited for what’s still in store for this summer.

Montgomery Street Repaving, New Trees, Sidewalks, and Parking

After securing grant money from the State Department of Transportation in 2015-2016, Montgomery Street received a much needed repaving this summer, after the project was delayed last year due to government shutdown and the resulting executive orders that halted the project.

With efforts from the Borough Council/School

Board Committee, the Council was able to fulfill the School Board’s request to install sidewalks on Morningside Avenue as part of this project, redirecting a portion of the grant funds for this purpose.  In addition, 16 new trees were planted along the sidewalk on Morningside Avenue, long overdue improvements the Borough believes will have long-term benefits in the school district.

In addition, we have also worked with various professional encouraging safety and parking improvements when the road was being relined.  We are most proud of the more visible crosswalks that have been painted in this school zone, moving away from a “lined” pattern, a much more visible, “bars and stripes” pattern.  Based upon suggestions from engineering, the existing

parking on the road could be reconfigured to provide several new

parking spots on the street, utilizing an angled parking approach on the southbound side of Montgomery. Parking and dropping children off in the morning and pickup after school has always been a challenge and the new configuration will also create some issues. But with this format, we’ve gained additional parking and narrowed the street to provide street calming safety effects, two benefits that will add convenience while keeping our children safe.

The South River Police Department has developed some traffic guidelines for this area that we encourage you to consult.

Summer Intern Program

This summer introduced the launch of a new student program within the borough that we hope will become a mainstay in the borough each year. The Youth Leadership Program provided internship opportunities for five students who applied before the deadline.

We were thrilled to see that South River’s future is in strong hands, as these bright young men and women offered their knowledge and efforts to get some major projects underway that will continue to reap benefits as we progress into the future.

Our Environmental Assessment Intern, Jenna Agnello, developed the format for, and began building out our Shade Tree Inventory within the borough, a document designed to assist our various departments so that they can better plan and address tree issues in South River.  Strong towns possess databases like this to better educate where our shade covering is the most plentiful, to determine relative ages of trees, and develop plans of action for aging and diseased trees that won’t wipe out an entire neighborhood’s shade covering.

Our Complete Streets Safety Intern, Oles Kormosh, worked on developing an inventory of our road and street assets, creating the format for the database and working to populate it with the various assets and information present on our streets.  The Green Team recently identified an area that it would like to improve upon within the borough: Safe Routes to School.  With them, we’re working on a variety of ways to build this effort and one of the ways to do this is to conduct an evaluation of the existing quality of our roads and streets. Once we conduct an audit, grant moneys are available for implementing improvements and we can continue making infrastructural changes that make our streets safer for all who use them.

Both of these databases will begin to be transferred (and later updated as they continue to be populated) into a Geographical Information System (GIS) format to be used as custom layers within MAP•it, our new Interactive map in the borough.  Earlier this summer, we made several improvements to the borough map, adding new custom layers for zoning, election districts, and polling places.  We hope to continue adding new layers to provide additional layers of information over time as this data is collected.  Being able to access this data using GPS information will ensure our borough is planning appropriately going forward.

Two interns, Nancy Rivera and Priya Jain worked to improve our Public Access Channel efforts, converting old videotapes to a digital format and developing new ideas of how to reach our residents within the borough. Much of the benefits of these interns will be seen in the coming months as TV35 launches new ideas, volunteer outreach, and programming efforts.

The final intern, Miguel Ribau, has been working with the Borough Administrator to develop new cost effective ideas to improve Borough events throughout the year.

Curb & Sidewalk Program

We reintroduced and strengthened the Borough Curb & Sidewalk Program earlier this year. This year’s program saw 83 residents participate in this program, providing borough residents seeking replacement of their curbs and sidewalks with numerous benefits. Because of the success of this year’s program and because it is a win-win for everyone, we plan on making this program an annual effort with a deadline of July 15th. If you apply after that date, you will be considered part of the following year’s application process.

“Plant One On Us” Shade Tree Program

Similar to the Curb & Sidewalk Program, the borough is launching a “Plant One On Us” Shade Tree Program to provide more opportunities for folks to replenish our urban forest.  Over the past several years, hundreds of trees have been removed in the borough and we are serious about reversing that trend.  The program will have a fall and spring planting with a September 15th fall deadline.  The spring deadline will be announced soon.

Roads Program 2017, Part I

After having no borough roads program the past two years, we will once again be paving roads in South River.  Stay tuned for more details on this program in the near future!

Streetscape Revitalization, Stage I

We’re beginning the first stage of the Downtown Streetscape Revitalization this fall and have been hard at work at determining how to proceed with the HCD grant funds.  We will have complete details in the very near future.  Read more about what has already been proposed!

Addressing Safety Issues in our parks

It was recently brought to our attention that the periphery of one of the ball fields at Varga Park that there is a swarm of wasps living in the park.  Councilman Jack Alai, our Public Safety Chair, has contacted the experts at Rutgers University Entomology department for advice and is awaiting a response. After a local inspection of the site, it appears that the wasps are of a variety commonly known as “Cicada Killer Wasps.” We have requested our Public Works Department to rope off the area to warn and protect patrons of our parks until we have additional information as to how the wasps should be managed.

While we believe that you should avoid the roped off area of the park and let the insects alone, Cicada Killer Wasps are relatively unaggressive to humans and will generally not bother you unless they feel threatened.

Other matters

We have identified a variety of playground safety issues in many of the parks in the borough and have been working to repair them throughout the year. We have been replacing the Fibar (safe playground mulch) in a variety of locations and are working to fill in several more before year-end. In addition, we’re in the process of replacing parts to make the slide at Grekoski Park, the swings at Fitzpatrick Park, and the “bubble mirror” at Leonardine Park fully operational and polished again.

We’re committed to keeping our parks clean and tidy so if you find a concern, please REPORT•it so it can be addressed. In addition, due to the rise in ticks and other insects such as mosquitos, we’ve been working on a number of efforts to mitigate the problem. First, we are working to ensure that the grass at the parks is kept low to prevent the proliferation of ticks. Middlesex County recently conducted a mosquito spraying (.pdf), in town to curb that issue.

Earlier this year, we began work on several of the fields in the borough to make them more functional. We are aware of the surface water flooding issue around second base at the field at Grekoski Park and added an appropriate dirt mixture, hoping this would solve the problem. The problem appears to be more complex than this and are taking a closer look to begin rectifying this issue. Additionally, the Herzog field at Varga Park was transformed earlier this year (removing the infield grass for safety concerns and to conform to rules) to allow girls softball and possibly tee ball to play on this field. We’re looking to improve Pacer’s Field similarly and convert it to a regulation 60-90 field as soon as it is feasible to do so.

We began exploring the addition of a dog plaza at Varga Park for residents to have a place to bring and run their dogs. We had initially planned to implement this new feature this year, but due to the proximity to the waterfront, an environmental study is being conducted to ensure that the location is appropriate and legal for such a venue.

For Earth Day, nonprofit Spaces Reimagined partnered with the Department of Public Works, the Green Team, and the Environmental & Shade Tree Commission to organize a park cleanup of Dailey’s Pond, which we hope will become an annual tradition in the borough.

Another initiative we’ve launched this year include bench and tree dedication opportunities to encourage greater resident relationships with our public spaces. We’re also working on a resource to give Boy and Girl Scouts, along with other youth, ideas for projects they may want to engage in to make our public spaces even better places than they are.

In addition to all of this work, we have identified a variety of other larger issues that we will be working later this year and early next year to ensure that South River parks are inviting and enjoyable places for residents of all ages to spend time in. We’re fully committed to reinvigorating our parks.

Making way for a greener downtown

A photo of South River's Main Street after temporarily removing the trees in the downtown.This week, we had our Public Works crew remove the trees in the downtown to prepare for maintenance and improvements to the business district. The removals were okayed by the Environment/Shade Tree Commission and are only temporary. There have been several rumors spiraling about why this decision was made. We wanted to provide clarity and transparency to this decision to keep our residents informed.

When conducting a review of the downtown, we discovered that many of the tree grates in the downtown were missing (due to removals over the years.) Nearly 30% of the total  tree grates were missing trees, making for an inconsistent and gave suggestion that these grates had been abandoned. Many of the other trees were not in good shape for a downtown facade tree, a result of not choosing the appropriate trees for a business district and an overall lack of planning when it comes to our tree line in the business district. We need to do better with our trees in the borough. This year we’ve been making numerous efforts to improve the tree situation in the borough and we are fully committed to improving the urban forest in South River.

What’s happening now that we’ve removed these trees?

1. We plan on repairing and replacing the pavers or completely replacing the pavers with stamped pavement to improve the look and feel of our business district. We’re currently discussing plans to either relevel these pavers, replace them, or change the pavers for stamped pavement.  It has been over twenty years since the last pavers were installed and they are displaying their age. Temporarily removing the trees allows us to gain better access to this project and allow us to add additional features to the downtown that is presently not possible. The removal allows us to better access the pavers project, reduces expenses for the project, and allows us to rethink how we should deploy our facade trees.

2. We love trees and believe they’re an essential part of a beautiful, revitalized downtown. We are beginning to work closely with the Environment/Shade Tree Commission to select new trees that are better situated as a downtown facade tree. The goals of facade trees are different than shade trees and we need to ensure that the trees selected take this into account. Businesses have complained that the existing trees blocked their storefronts, and we’ve found many other challenges in terms of size, foliage, and maintenance with the current trees selected. The hope is that by selecting  a more appropriate tree, the foliage will not interfere with storefronts and electrical lines

3. We are also working in tandem with other programs, such as the new tree dedication program, and the “Plant One On Us” shade tree program to inspire a new wave of investing in the environment in the borough. We’re also working with the Green Team to establish more environmentally friendly and sustainable policies to improve the quality of life in the borough.

4. We’re discussing numerous other efforts in our revitalization plan to improve our downtown and make for an even greener, more welcoming business district. We’ll continue to update you as new efforts begin.

Cleaning Our Downtown

In order to begin the process of improving our downtown, we’re looking at the existing work schedules in the Borough and working towards streamlining them. One of the ways we’re doing this is to provide for more regular maintenance of items that tend to be overlooked, such as removing weeds, power washing, taking note of small items that are broken and adding those items to the rotation of items that are repaired.

We’ve started by ensuring that the weeds in the downtown are removed and that we are revisiting such tasks on  a more regular basis. We have so much more planned, but in order to focus on the bigger efforts, we must first take care of the smaller projects and improve efficiencies in our existing maintenance.

Welcome to our Projects Blog

Welcome! In an effort to provide more information and more frequent updates on the efforts we’re undertaking, we’re launching our “Projects Blog.” What is the Projects Blog? Put simply, it’s a place to stay up to date on more substantial undertakings that the Borough of South River is working on.

We believe it is important to ensure that residents are kept up to date on what is going on in the borough and we will begin using srboro.org as way to accomplish this.  Our borough website can still be found at southrivernj.org and as we begin to build out our borough website, we felt it would be a good idea to begin highlighting many of the efforts being undertaken to help answer questions and concerns.

As many of you may already be aware, the Borough is working on a Revitalization Plan and this blog will serve as a part of that effort to increase awareness, explain decisions, and better market the borough to encourage new visitors near and far. We’re excited to begin this journey with you.