June 17, 2014 at 6:00 AM
NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – With the recent recognition of New Providence High School as the state’s best, borough officials may want to argue that local recreational offerings deserve similar accolades.
One indicator is the robust growth in registration, increasing 19 percent last year over 2012, Community Activities Director Tzu-Lin Toner said. The number of programs offered increased by 14 percent and program fees from participants increased 14 percent to $578,000.
Commensurate with that growth is the need for substantial improvements to borough parks and fields, which hasn’t escaped the attention of borough officials.
Last year, Hillview Field was refurbished including a modest use of artificial turf and opened for business in April. Last week, the Borough Council approved an expenditure of up to $435,000 for Lincoln Field that will include a sodded field to accommodate soccer, lacrosse and football. Two baseball fields are included that will be completed by year’s end and ready for use next April.
Reviewing her department’s performance with Borough Council members, Toner said what sets local recreation efforts apart from those of other communities was good value.
“Our programs are not only affordable but also high in quality in terms of content and instruction,” Toner emphasized.
As one example, Toner cited the dance program, which costs about $5 per hour compared to area dance studios which charge $15 to $20 per hour.
“We are fortunate enough to have great content and instruction with Debbie Ibrahim and Jessica Lombardi as our dancer instructors,” Toner said.
Still another factor in the department’s success is a conscious effort to involve every age group – from 3-year-olds to plus-80, all year around.
For example, pre-school classes for 3- to 5-year-olds were offered only during the school year, but in 2010 a summer mini-playground camp was added to the schedule of offerings.
There have always been a large number of programs for grade school youngsters. Working with the Board of Education, teachers and parents, the Recreation Department has expanded afterschool enrichment programs.
Efforts for middle school youngsters have greatly expanded to include a musical theater workshop, ceramics, girls' volleyball, track and tennis.
With over 90 percent of high school students involved in extracurricular activities and concentrating on college, offerings have been limited. However, Toner said many students are hired as coaches and camp counselors.
Concerned about keeping adults healthy and fit, Toner acknowledged their time pressures keep them quite busy in what she described as a “kid-driven community”. Thankfully, she added, there are over 130 adult coaches for baseball, softball and basketball leagues.
But what about adults whose children have fled the nest? The Rec Department introduced a new after-hours program led by Peggy Brodeur and Patty Kummer attended by 70 empty-nesters at a recent barbecue held at the Corso Community Center.
In addition to recreation, the Community Activities Department also oversees the Senior Citizens Center. Local resident Dick Walther conceived and designed a nationally recognized program called Senior Varsity Tennis.
Toner cited a third factor of success as an office staff that listens and responds to the needs of community which includes evaluations, email, Facebook and phone calls.
“No matter how you slice and dice it, recreation is on a growth trajectory,” Toner said.
In addition to Toner, the department consists of Arlene Regan, Bernadette Cuccaro, Maureen Parker, Patty Kummer and Karen Lambert.
The department is also responsible for the Senior Citizens Center led by Peggy Brodeur assisted by Michael Ferlise and Homer Fuents.