Maplewood / South Orange is considered a “progressive community”. To be truly a progressive community, however, we must act for progress. We need to explore new ways of solving the centuries-old problems that persist and apply learning from the mistakes of the past to how we move forward. Updating DeHart’s athletic fields with turf coverage IS a step forward, and I hope the community comes together to support it.
Decades of taxpayer time and money have been spent unsuccessfully trying to maintain only grass fields at DeHart. The result is an often unusable, rocky, and flooded mud pit that is not only an eyesore, but a danger to children and adults who use it. We largely agree that we do not have the capacity on the ground to meet the growing needs of our community. Placing a turf blanket on DeHart athletic fields presents a safe, fast and reasonable way to meet overloaded capacity needs that can NEVER be met by grass pitches alone. It is also the best way to preserve and maintain other lawns in the community, allowing rest and good maintenance.
As a former member of the Board of Education, I know that passing a bold resolution can be polarizing. Despite serious attempts at transparency and an open process, there are still comments to the contrary and the feeling that things are moving too quickly and without sufficient initial commitment. The Maplewood Township Committee should heed this feedback and plan accordingly as this project progresses, but is doing the right thing by moving forward with plans to sod the land. sports at DeHart.
The city committee is to be commended for its efforts to bring in experts to address the health issues raised by community members. These experts pointed out that turf infill has evolved considerably in terms of safety and durability. They reiterated that there is no conclusive evidence of the negative impact of turf on health. In fact, the very reports cited by those who oppose turf serve to underscore this point. The oft-cited EPA¹ study of tire granule rubber infill indicates that, “In general, the report’s findings support the hypothesis that although chemicals are present as expected in the rubber granules of tires. tire, human exposure appears to be limited depending on what is released into the air or simulated biological fluids.
The study, plagued by delays and not exhaustive in testing turf against ‘control’ field substances such as natural turf and turf fields with natural / organic infill also states: “(I) t is important recognize that chemicals are present in other types of fields, including natural grass fields. In addition, another oft-cited NJDEP² study also supports the claim that, although chemicals are present in turf, “given that these are only occasional exposures (observed use of grass fields). existing turf in their study), this tends to reduce the risk of adverse health effects. effects.”
We have had many decades to prove the dangers of turf fields, and there is no conclusive evidence left to support the continuing fear of adverse health impacts. But here’s what we know for sure: Properly supporting the physical and emotional well-being of our children, especially emerging from a year of isolation and stagnation. Ensuring that we have adequate facilities for sports and recreation is also necessary for the long-term health and well-being of our community.
In addition, to be a progressive community, we must think and act in the best interests of the COMMUNITY. The familiar narrative around fairness and injustice in the neighborhood are important considerations that need to be addressed with facts. DeHart, of all the other green spaces in Maplewood, is the most viable and fiscally responsible option for turf. It already has field lights and requires less “landscaping” (tree clearing, etc.) to be ready for a lawn cover.
Not only is the Hilton neighborhood not unfairly targeted, but the so-called DeHart Community Center provides an opportunity to advance our intentional integration plan. whose cornerstone is that we are one diverse community, not just a collection of neighborhoods. Underhill, the school district owned turf field, is an example of usable space that can bring the children of our community together (if properly maintained and secured). This is exactly the integration we want INSIDE our school buildings! The township committee has an incredible opportunity to reinvent a COMMUNITY vision for sports and recreation, where functional and usable spaces – like what DeHart could be – can bring the community together.
The Township Committee deserves our thanks for its commitment to progress and for the thoughtful, diligent and transparent manner in which it has approached this process. I can’t wait to see DeHart’s final plans. I hope the township committee will continue to think about a broader vision for sports / recreation and green spaces in our community – hopefully in partnership with the leaders of South Orange, organizations like the YMCA of South Mountain and the community groups. More importantly, I hope the community shows their support for a usable community center that can bring our community together, instead of prolonging a process that will only separate us further.
Madhu Pai has been a resident of MAPSO for 15 years. She is a former resident of Maplewood, a current resident of South Orange and an active member of the SOMA / MAPSO community. The views expressed in this editorial are its own and not those of any organization or group with which it is affiliated.