Resident: Ball field falls short on safety issues Monroe Township engineer said concerns are new to him

Staff Writer

By nicole c. vaccaro

Resident: Ball field falls short on safety issues
Monroe Township engineer said concerns are new to him

Steve Michaels, of Monroe,  shows an area of James Monroe Park, Monroe, where the pavement is uneven. He said the condition of the walkway may be hazardous to pedestrians and individuals with disabilities. Steve Michaels, of Monroe, shows an area of James Monroe Park, Monroe, where the pavement is uneven. He said the condition of the walkway may be hazardous to pedestrians and individuals with disabilities.

MONROE — Township resident Steve Michaels has said that he is more than willing to file a lawsuit against the Monroe Township Recreation Department if it continues to ignore the mounting safety concerns at James Monroe Park baseball field.

According to Michaels, there are at least five safety hazards that he has called attention to, both before the recreation department and the Township Council.

"Both sets of board members have repeatedly ignored me, making no real effort to rectify the situation," he said.

One of Michaels’ primary safety concerns involves the condition of the walkways. He said that not only are they in terrible shape, but that they are also not handicap accessible.

Being disabled himself, Michaels sees this as more than just an inconvenience.

"I find it very disconcerting to have to deal with this problem each and every time I want to get to the ball field," he explained.

"I have just as much of a right to enjoy the facility as anybody else and doing so should not have to be a chore," he added.

Michaels said that not only are the walkways unsuitable for people with disabilities, but are also unsafe in general.

"Four people have already been hurt using them," he alleged. "What more is it going to take for someone to start paying attention?"

Township Engineer Ernie Feist said that the township conducted a renovation of the field’s parking lot just last year and that among those improvements were the installation of new curbs and repairs to some of the walkways.

"I have seen many people, some in wheelchairs, using those walkways and haven’t heard of any complaints," he said.

"I’m fairly confident they are up to code, but if not, I am sure the recreation department is aware of that and in the process of making any necessary changes," Feist added.

While making improvements to the parking lot last year, Feist said the township worked closely with Little League representatives to make sure "all of their ducks were in a row and that nothing imperative was skipped."

"We were able to get their perspective on things and it seemed as if we were in line with those visions. This is really the first time I am hearing about any problems," he explained.

Another pressing problem, claims Michaels, are the split rail fences at the park.

"They are weak and have sharp points, which can cause real injuries if kids were to climb them," he said.

"As much as you tell them to keep off, they are not always going to listen," Michaels said. "Kids will be kids and that’s why it is our job to protect them."

Again, Feist was not aware of this problem.

"If he (Michaels) has a list of complaints, I’d be more than happy to take a look at it," Feist said. "But this is the first time I’m hearing of any list, let alone these specific safety concerns."

Michaels said that he has not only submitted a written list, but also attended council and recreation department meetings to state his case.

Feist, who said he has not missed a council meeting in more than two years, said that if Michaels recently attended a council meeting, it was not to speak.

"Like I said, this is the first time I am hearing about any of this," he added.

Feist did admit to receiving a phone call from Michaels some time ago, but it was only to inquire about the council’s progress toward obtaining a state grant for capital improvements.

"He basically asked where we stood with the grant," Feist said. "So I told him and then he hung up. That was it."

The grant application Feist speaks of was submitted almost three years ago to Green Acres, a state agency.

"We actually just received approval for this grant in the amount of $275,000, which will be used toward various community improvements, some of which will take place at James Monroe Park field," Feist explained. "People just need to be patient. These things take time."

Michaels also pointed to a problem with the field’s bleachers, saying they are without backs or rails, which can be extremely dangerous if someone were to slip and fall.

But according to Feist, "These bleachers are portable and so they’re designed a specific way to make them easier to transport to the football field or wherever it is we’re going to use them."

Feist said that, like with the walkways, he has never heard of nor witnessed any problems with the bleachers.

"In fact, they are rather small and low to the ground," he added. "I can’t see them posing much of a threat."

However, this does not mean Feist is not willing to recommend to the recreation department that permanent bleachers be installed if the ones in place are not up to appropriate safety standards.

"I will make it a priority to look into this matter with the (recreation) department," Feist said. "If we discover that the bleachers are, in fact, a safety hazard, then they will be replaced immediately."

Michaels has also expressed an annoyance with the lack of lighting in the parking lot and complained of an electrical problem in the snack stand.

Again, he claims, both problems are being ignored.

"It’s as if it’s going to take someone being robbed in the parking lot or a fire in the snack stand before the recreation department finds the motivation to move on these matters," he said.

"If Michaels is serious about these allegations, then he needs to take the proper steps in addressing them," Feist said. "He needs to make sure that his list gets into the council’s hands and that his concerns are heard at a meeting. These are the proper channels to go through."

"Threatening a lawsuit, however, is not the best way to go about getting his point across," he added.

Feist said that there is also a recreation advisory committee, appointed by the mayor, that oversees the recreation director and his staff and that may be a good place for Michaels to start.

"No resident, no matter how much we may disagree with what he or she has to say, is ever ignored. I can assure you of that," Feist said.

"If a valid point is brought before the council, we will do everything in our power to thoroughly address it and come up with a solution if necessary," he added.

Feist said he is currently working with the recreation department to investigate Michaels’ concerns about the field’s bleachers.

Nobody at the recreation department was available for comment.