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Trenton announces plans to upgrade Unity Square Park, replacing baseball fields with soccer fields

Trenton announced upgrades to Unity Square Park during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday. Here, Council President Crystal Feliciano speaks with, from left, Parks and Rec Director Maria Richardson, Mayor Reed Gusciora, Councilmembers Yazminelly Gonzalez, Joe Harrison and Jennifer Williams. (John Berry/The Trentonian)

TRENTON — Change is inevitable.

City leaders are pushing to go with that change rather than fight it.

Unity Square Park is the next park on Trenton’s list to get upgrades, and this park will see some big changes.

The former Columbus Park is already a good example of how times and demographic shifts have necessitated changes in public facilities. The former Columbus Park will soon look very different, save for the removal of the name and statue of controversial historical figure Christopher Columbus.

The neighborhood has a growing Latino population and an ever-increasing interest in soccer.

So city officials will replace the park’s underused baseball and softball fields with soccer fields to accommodate the needs of the already sizable youth soccer program taking place there.

Add in upgraded playground equipment and the conversion of the now vacant former community center into a clubhouse and concession stand, and the park will be ready to meet the needs of the changing community.

“This $250,000 project is a critical part of the city’s $3 million investment in the makeover of 26 of its 60 parks,” said Mayor Reed Gusciora. “It’s more than just an investment in infrastructure, it’s an investment in the interests of our community. By providing our children with safe, fun and engaging spaces to play, we are promoting the physical health, social skills and overall well-being of the next generation.”

“This is part of the revival of hope and is tangible evidence that the administration, together with the council, is working to get Trenton back on track,” said Council President Crystal Feliciano.

Unity Square Park is located on the border of two neighborhoods in Trenton, with part of the park in the East Ward and part in the North Ward. Both Jennifer Williams of North Ward and Joe Harrison of East Ward joked about the debate about where the line is drawn when Williams offered to play rock-paper-scissors in front of the playground where Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony took place. However, when they talked seriously about the park, they both talked about the joy of having a collaborative process on the City Council and with the mayor to get major projects done. Sharing responsibility for the park is experienced as positive, in stark contrast to the previous municipal council.

“This park is shared by so many people in the city,” Williams said, “so many events are held here and food distributions are held here, so it’s really important.”

“This is what it means to have teamwork,” Harrison said. “This is what happens when you work together for the betterment of the people.”

Parks and Recreation Department Director Maria Richardson said construction is tentatively scheduled for early August and should be completed by the end of September.

The first mini field in the city of Trenton will replace an existing softball field.

Upgrades to the playground will occur at the same time as the softball field is replaced.

Richardson said some of the existing playground equipment is more than 40 years old but passes annual inspections. Some of that equipment will be removed and replaced with entirely new structures. Other pieces will remain and be added and updated.

Both projects represent the first part of the upgrades. The second phase, according to Richardson, will replace the baseball field with a football field of “almost regular size.”

Along with these upgrades, the former community center will receive a new roof, which will then allow the city to rehabilitate the building for use as a clubhouse and concession stand for the youth soccer league.

“We don’t always agree,” Harrison said, “but we always find a way to make people the highest priority. That’s what it should always be about.”

“It’s all about the kids,” said Council Member Yazminelly Gonzalez. “They have 400 kids here playing football when they started with 50 or 60. If we want our kids to do positive things, we have to give them the opportunity to do that.