By PHIL NOBILE
Aesthetic improvements to Harrison’s Ma Riis Park are expected later this year after designs by an engineering company hired in December 2013 near completion.
The park, located off Heineman Place between the town’s municipal building and the public library, serves as the focal point for Harrison’s public buildings.
According to Republican Mayor Ron Belmont, the overall process of updating and improving the park will be taken slow. “This is just the first step for Ma Riis Park,” Belmont said. “We have more things planned, and we want to go slow and spend cautiously.”
At the March 20 Town Council meeting, Town Engineer Michael Amodeo presented designs for the park project and asked for approval for the town’s Purchasing Department to go out to bid for the improvements, which were estimated to cost $100,000. The town plans to go out to bid once the designs are completed within a few months, according to Amodeo.
The improvements, designed by New Jersey firm Langan Engineering, call for four-foot rail fencing to encase the park on the Heineman Place and Harrison Avenue sides, along with brick piers to “make a visual impact,” according to Amodeo. The fencing will extend 300-feet along Heineman Place and 170-feet along Harrison Avenue.
Upgrades to sidewalks, landscaping, shrubbery and park benches are also part of the plan.
The plan also calls for aesthetic improvements to the town’s World War I monument for Harrison soldiers who served in the war, located on the corner where the two streets connect.
“We want to open it up visually to have people be able to walk up to the monument and better appreciate what’s there,” Amodeo said.
According to the town engineer, the funding for the improvements will come from fees accrued from developers who subdivide their properties in the town. Subdivision fees collected by the town are used exclusively for parks and recreation purposes.
“This is a valid use of those funds,” Amodeo said. “This park gets a lot of use for different events, and I think the updates will provide a good aesthetic impact to the park.”
The plan did, however, raise some concerns from the Town Council.
Councilman Stephen Malfitano, a Republican and former mayor, was skeptical of the design’s entryways into the park but eventually came around, stating that the improvements would coincide well with the anticipated library renovations later this year.
“The park, as you can see with your own eyes, is pretty tired looking,” Malfitano said. “This is a focal point for the town and is used by so many residents. The improvements, as small as they may be, have a tremendous amount of benefit.”
Resident Robert Porto commended the plan for removing the current chain link fencing that surrounds the park in favor of something more aesthetically appealing. Porto, however; added that money should be spent on less abrasive lighting in the park, and urged the Town Council to “spend money on the little guys.”
“You spend money on yourselves and the town’s functioning often, but I want you guys to spend money on the people,” Porto said. “Do it right and make it look good, because [the project] isn’t for a year; it’s for the next 30 years.”
Malfitano, who said the improvements would take a few months to complete, said that it didn’t appear that the park required new lighting. But the former mayor did say that lighting improvements and other elements that could be improved upon would be taken into
“One step at a time is the prudent approach,” he said. “Lighting can get expensive, and we’re being very cautious and careful because we’re not interested in spending a lot of money.”
According to Amodeo, new lighting was ruled out of the upgrades at this time due to it surpassing the budget for the project. Mayor Belmont reiterated that more aspects for updating the park would be implemented in the future, and that the current improvements before the board are the “first step.”
The total amount generated through Subdivision fees and the cost for hiring Langan Engineering could not be provided by Town Comptroller Maureen MacKenzie as of press time.