Van Fleet Park to Get New, Roughly $320K ‘Carpet’
The park with an artificial playing surface was put in more than 10 years ago, and now the turf has outlived its anticipated use, borough officials say. The work could be done this summer, but it’s more likely to happen in the spring.
Borough officials say they are likely to spend as much as $320,000 to re-turf a roughly 10-year-old field used by hundreds of Fort Lee kids to play soccer and softball.
The issue of giving General Van Fleet Park the makeover came up during a discussion at the Fort Lee Mayor and Council’s executive session Thursday, when Borough Administrator Peggy Thomas said, “I went down to Van Fleet Park the other day and saw the state of if.”
The turf field was put in more than 10 years ago, and at the time, the manufacturer and installer told officials they could expect the “carpet” to wear out in about eight years, said Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich.
“They said if you get eight years, nine years, be happy,” Sokolich said. “If you get 10, you’re on borrowed time.”
Sokolich added, “We’re now over 10, and it’s evident.”
“It’s ripped; it’s torn; it’s lost its fluff; it’s all matted,” Sokolich said. “And there’s a reason for that.”
The reason, Sokolich said, is that “that field is used as much as any field in the county.”
“We have constant, constant soccer on it; constant girls’ softball,” he said, estimating that as many as 400 kids in the girls’ softball league alone use the field.
He said that compared with other towns, Fort Lee has few athletic fields, and that it’s his policy “to make them all state-of-the-art.”
Sokolich also said, “To make a long story short, it’s beyond it’s time so we’re going to re-turf it; we’re going to give it a new top.”
Fort Lee Councilman Michael Sargenti, Council liaison to the Fort Lee Parks and Recreation Departments, said the estimate of eight or nine years was made with the assumption of a certain amount of use.
“We got 10 good years out of that and three times the amount of playtime that [we were] actually supposed to have,” Sargenti said Thursday. “And we took good care of that carpet, but the amount of use on the carpet is more than you can imagine.”
Sargenti also pointed out that what’s under the artificial playing surface won’t have to be replaced—just the actual turf.
“The beauty of it is, we don’t have to deal with the three or four feet that’s below it—all the gravel, the turf, the drainage—that’s not an issue,” Sokolich said Friday. “All we’ve got to do is cover the carpet.”
Sokolich compared the new artificial surface officials would like to put in at Van Fleet to the turf that was installed at the Fort Lee American Little League field on Anderson Avenue a couple of years ago, sharing a story about traveling from his office just south of the field to Borough Hall for Thursday’s meeting after what he described as a “torrential downpour” that ended at about 6:45 p.m.
“Literally four or five minutes after this downpour, those kids were taking infield practice, warming up for a game that was starting at 7 p.m.,” Sokolich said. “Two years ago with that field, with even half the rain that we got, those kids wouldn’t have played baseball for two days.”
It also would have been a virtual nightmare for coaches to get the field playable again, according to Sokolich, who’s done his share of coaching youth sports in Fort Lee.
“In other words, they work,” Sokolich said. “These turf fields are great. It’s expensive, but they’re great.”
The question now becomes how soon the work can be done, or what Sargenti called “mobilization,” which he said could be difficult, given that the borough has to coordinate timing with the youth sports leagues.
Sargenti added that August is a possibility.
“I don’t know if we can do it that soon; we’re not sure if the people can mobilize that quickly,” Thomas countered.
But Sokolich said Friday he’d like to see it get done “as soon as possible.”
He said he was on the phone with the presidents of all the leagues that use the field shortly after Thursday’s meeting “because I’ve got to start to mobilize them already.”
“If it were a perfect world, we would adopt the ordinance, cut the check, and these guys would start July 15, take their 30 to 45 days, because I’m sure it’s going to take at least that, and right around when school starts, we have our new field,” Sokolich said, adding that it’s more likely to “end up being a spring project.”
The project is a specialized service, but it is “subject to bidding,” Sokolich said.
“We’ve devoted a lot of resources to that field,” he said. “We built the snack bar facility, we built the storage facility, we built the meeting rooms and we improved the parking lot. I just want to make sure these fields are all online.”