EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Township Committee will soon decide the fate of the expansion of Tony Canale Park.
Through the state’s Green Acres program, the township applied in March to receive a $3.7 million loan with a 2% interest rate along with a $1.2 million grant to expand the 51-acre Tony Canale Park by another 40 acres, said Peter J. Miller, township administrator.
Last month, the township received some bad news.
The loan was denied, and the grant amount was only $750,000 of the $1.2 million that was asked for, Miller said. The original plan to build a new park adjacent to Tony Canale Park was scheduled for $5 million, he said.
The idea of expanding the park stretches back about 10 years ago to the time when the township doubled its number of football teams from four to eight and lacrosse started, Miller said.
“We really need to create additional fields somewhere,” said Miller about discussions he had with the township’s former recreation director.
The 40 acres became available at least seven years ago, Miller said. The township negotiated with the property owner and purchased the 40 acres with green acres funds for $1.6 million, he said.
The talk was to build an artificial turf field, so a team could play in the rain, multiple sports could use it and the grounds could handle that type of use, Miller said.
Currently, Tony Canale Park contains four soccer fields, one softball field, a playground, an amphitheater, five tennis courts and two volleyball courts, Miller said. Eight youth football teams use Veterans Park on Ocean Heights Avenue. The football field is the outfield of the baseball field. Baseball is moved to another field in the fall when football needs to be played, he said.
The goal is to provide a home for football and lacrosse and to stop displacing baseball, Miller said. Lacrosse is played at Veterans and Tony Canale parks currently, he said.
“With a turf field, you can play in the rain. You can play four games in one day. The next day, you could play a soccer game on the same field. It can handle that kind of activity,” Miller said.
Both the Township Committee and the township’s Recreation Commission know the loan request was denied, Miller said.
“We are hoping to get a bigger grant,” said township Recreation Commission member and Deputy Mayor Laura Pfrommer, who added it was disappointing that the township didn’t receive more money. “So many groups are using the fields.”
The Green Acres Program’s $750,000 comes with a major string attached. To receive the entire $750,000, the township has put in its own money to a 75%-to-25% ratio to the state. The township would have to contribute $2.25 million in order to access the entire $750,000, Miller said.
The Recreation Commission will be meeting on Dec. 11 to determine how to move forward, Miller said.
Christine Gras, an alternate on the township’s Recreation Commission, served as secretary, registrar, vice president and president for the Egg Harbor Township Soccer Club from 2002 to 2012.
The soccer club uses Tony Canale Park, and Gras said as many as 600 boys and girls play on the field during the course of a year. There are three types of program: adapted or special needs; recreational and the travel program.
The township does a wonderful job, but the fields are overused, Gras said. “In a perfect world, we would have one turf field. Soccer is extremely competitive and extremely popular. There is a lack of space. The expansion is needed.”