Let’s be clear about the “Field of Dreams.” It is a concept that grew out of the possibility of acquiring the United Water property adjacent to New Milford High School. Initiated by the New Milford Board of Education in the autumn of 2009, the concept as first presented envisioned a public-private partnership between the school district, the Borough of New Milford, the State of New Jersey, and—yes—United Water Company.
If through the application of support from the Garden State Preservation Trust, Green Acres, local funds and BOE resources, UW property could be obtained, it could be rededicated to the creation of an environmental studies center (as an adjunct to the STEM Academy @ New Milford High School), passive recreational and park land, a state-of-the-art athletic complex for school and community use, and a community center.
Furthermore, this concept would preserve what is currently a natural flood plain immune from commercial and residential development. A public-private partnership like this is absolutely necessary because school districts on their own cannot apply for Green Acres, Blue Acres or Garden State Preservation Trust funding. Municipalities can.
This vision, although heretofore unrealized, is still, one would hope, viable given potential changes to the disposition of United Water-Suez, which is seeking to reclaim costs in remediating the property, and the Borough in terms of its interest in expanding ratables and/or meeting unclear COAH requirements. I don’t know if that opportunity still exists. But I have to believe that United Water-Suez, with its commitment to being a good neighbor and, more importantly, its educational mission, has the option to work with the New Milford community to help it work through this process. I also have to believe that a long term, sustainable approach to protecting the property from misuse trumps development for economic gain.
The “Field of Dreams” represents the ideal, one that if realized would leave a powerful legacy for many generations to come. One may wonder what kind of legacy commercial development or housing leaves behind. Do you know of any community whose leaders celebrate the legacy of a strip mall—a supermarket, a bank, an apartment complex. New Milford already has these.
What communities should be looking for are those possibilities that enrich the lives of its residents. Imagine Manhattan without Central Park. Imagine the force of conviction that it took to preserve that jewel in the heart of the largest metropolis in the world. Imagine the pressure from developers in those early years when Central Park was still a dream and how a people resisted after repeated attempts to co-opt city government into taking a decidedly different turn.
New Milford, that is the townspeople, the school district, local leadership, as in the mayor and council, have a wonderful opportunity to determine the fate of this land in ways that preserve and protect the long-term good.
—Michael A. Polizzi, Superintendent, for the New Milford BOE