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Township and Schools Team Up to Improve Playing Fields

by Lind Seelbach, Millburn Township Committeewoman

Millburn Township’s school age population was rising rapidly.   All age groups in town were interested in recreation opportunities but facilities were limited, aging and overused.  Faced with this situation in the mid-1990s, a group began a series of informal discussions.

    The township’s athletic fields and gyms are variously owned by Millburn Township and the Millburn Board of Education and managed, in part, by the Millburn Township Recreation Department. The growing pressure for field usage called for a concerted effort, and so representatives of the Millburn Township Committee, Millburn Board of Education, Millburn Recreation Commission, Millburn Recreation Department, and Millburn Public Schools Athletic Department met to devise a process to address a townwide problem.  From the beginning we agreed that we would make every effort to expand capacity, rather than limit availability of the facilities.

    The objectives of the group:

     • Reflect on our township capacity to meet current and future needs for facilities;

     • Seek to upgrade the durability of existing fields;

     • Establish largely consistent policies, regulations and management practices for access to

        the facilities;

     • Explore a joint funding mechanism and process for the short and long-term rehabilitation and

        maintenance of fields in the township.

    We started with a professional study of the six most used fields in town.  The report, by Kinsey Associates, recommended a program for each field.  As a result of the report, the committee assigned short-term priority to work at one elementary school and two middle school fields.  Top priority for long-term rehabilitation was given to the Glenwood Elementary School, which required baseball and soccer field reconstruction, addition of an irrigation system, and improved drainage.  A program of coordinated maintenance of all the fields began immediately.

    While the facilities analysis was taking place, the Millburn Board of Education revised the policy for use of district facilities.  Revenue from all field rentals was designated for maintenance.  The Millburn Recreation Commission reviewed and revised facility use policies.  When usage policies became consistent, Millburn Township and the Millburn Board of Education could design a management system to identify problem areas, respond appropriately, and provide funding to improve fundamental problems.

    The Director of Recreation for Millburn Township, Robert Hogan, and his staff were the designated “gatekeepers” for the facilities.  The Millburn Township Committee recognized the liaison committee by resolution in June 1998.

    To date, the collaborative effort has achieved five years of semi-annual maintenance of all of the fields in town, received grants to help fund the reconstruction of two fields, and managed revenue from field rentals.  The system has proven to be a good one,  though our challenges continue.

    Although the total population level in Millburn has remained relatively stable, there has been a noticeable shift in age groups.  The year 2000 U.S. Census has documented a 6.1 percent increase in population over the last decade.  However, during the last decade the 5 to 14 year old age bracket has increased from 11.5 percent of the resident population to 17.6 percent.

    Millburn is a municipality that covers ten square miles, and because our community is fully developed, there are no obvious locations for new playing fields.  In fact, in both the 1997 and 2002 Reexamination of the Master Plan and Development Regulation reports, the community was found deficient in both active and passive recreation areas.  In the past five years, the school age population has grown from 3,290 to 4,209.  With the dramatic growth in public school enrollments, Millburn Township has experienced a program of school building expansions at the five elementary schools and the middle and high schools.  This activity has also impacted athletic facilities.

    Our experience is proving useful as we make plans for future needs in a time of tight budgets and diminished grants.  The Joint Fields Committee is researching the feasibility of installing artificial turf on a field.  By fall, lights will be installed at one location in town.  The group will continue the maintenance and capital programs that have helped Millburn Township, the Millburn Board of Education and Millburn Recreation Commission work together to better serve our residents.


Originally published in the January 2004 issue of New Jersey Municipalities, pp. 32-34.




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