Clifton Seeks Grant for Sperling Park Improvements


The City of Clifton has applied for a $250,000 grant from the Passaic County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund (the “Open Space Fund”) for improvements to Sperling Park at 295 Speer Avenue. These funds will be used for the rehabilitation of the John Gieger Playground and the construction of wheelchair-accessible pathways around the park.

The Clifton Times spoke with City Manager Dominick Villano, Recreation Department Supervisor Debbie Oliver, and City Engineer Michael J. Lardner on the topic.

The Passaic County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Advisory Committee: Passaic County created its Open Space Fund through a referendum in 1996. The Fund is used to fund grants to municipal and non-profit partners for open space acquisition, park development, and historic preservation projects on an annual basis. Grant requests are capped at a maximum amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($250,000.00). For more on the regulations governing the Passaic County Open Space Fund please see HERE.

The Sperling Park Phase 2 Grant Process: The application for the $250,000 grant for improvements for Sperling Park was filed with the Open Space Fund by Clifton in March of 2023, and then recommended by the Passaic County Open Space Advisory Committee Meeting on June 15th for approval by the Passaic County Commissioners. The County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the Open Space grants that are greater than $100,000 at its regularly scheduled meeting on September 5th at 5:30 pm at 401 Grand Street, Paterson. The public will have a chance to comment on the Open Space Grant recommendations for 45 days after the public hearing and the grants will be recommended for approval at the October 24th County Commissioners meeting. After approval, the County will enter into an agreement with the City to execute the grant award.

The Terms of the Grant: City Manager Nick Villano explained that there are two main kinds of grants: (1) a draw-down grant, where you get the money and then spend it, or (2) a reimbursement grant, where you spend the money, and then have it reimbursed to you after you show the receipts. The Passaic County grant is a reimbursement grant. The grant is also a matching grant, in that the $250,000 will not cover the entire cost of the refurbishments which are expected to be around $638,000. The City Council will have to approve that funding as a capital expenditure in the budget. As these approvals can only be made once a year, this slows down the process of refurbishing playgrounds, etc, and is part of the reason why many municipalities prefer to have their own open space funds. Clifton does not currently have an open space fund, but Councilman Joseph Kolodziej has proposed adding a referendum question on creating one to the November ballot. For our article on the proposed Clifton Open Space Tax, please read HERE.

Villano also explained that each grant has limits to how it can be used. For example, the grant may be used for building and maintenance but not for design. The Open Space Fund grant also has the requirement that it be used within 18 months after approval, though in the past the Passaic County Advisory Committee has been willing to extend that deadline, on a show that the work was underway. 

Sperling Park: The equipment at the John Gieger playground at Sperling Park is some of Clifton’s oldest, dating back to 2000. Debbie Oliver told us that most playground equipment lasts for around 20 years and then needs to be replaced because of wear and tear, which can expose the City to liability. The City has created a list of the playgrounds that are currently in need of repair and refurbishment HERE.  Oliver explained that the plan is to add new modular playground equipment.  Currently, the Oak Ridge playground is undergoing renovations, which are nearly complete, and Dudiak Park is also being renovated.  

Next Steps: Oliver explained that once the grant is approved, the next step would be to get an engineer. The engineer will come up with designs and then the plans will go out to get bids. Villano and Oliver estimated that this period would take around 6 months. They also explained that the timing of construction depends on what is found at the site. In the past, during site work, pipes or other unexpected obstacles have been found which have needed to be removed so that construction could continue.

Clifton residents applauded the grant in the local Clifton Facebook group Clifton News and Community, with some parents like LoriAnn Rosalie DeSimone hopeful that the improvements to the playground will be inclusive, as well as ADA accessible, so as to appeal to a broad range of users. The public will have a chance to comment on the Open Space Grant recommendations for 45 days after the public hearing on September 5, 2023, giving Cliftonites a chance to make their voices heard.

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