Princeton Council Approves Design Plan for Mary Moss Park Expansion

mary moss

The Princeton Council voted unanimously on Monday night to approve a design concept plan for Mary Moss Park, a park located in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood that will be expanded with funding from Mercer County.

The town has been working on the plans for the park expansion since 2012, and two public meetings were held earlier this year to get feedback from residents about the new design. The town was able to purchase a lot adjacent to the park with county open space funding. A second lot was originally slated to be used for the expansion, but a small group of residents convinced the town to use the lot for affordable housing.

The recreation department held two public forums about the expansion plans earlier this year, promoted the forums in the press, and mailed notices about the meetings to people who lived in the neighborhood.

Recreation Director Ben Stentz said the design plan reflects feedback from residents who said they wanted a bigger playground area at the park, more landscaping, and more seating areas at the park, which is located at the corner of John Street and Lytle Street.

Rumors that the name of the park will be changed are untrue, and Stentz said the goal of the expansion is to continue to honor and commemorate the legacy of resident Mary Moss.

“This is a chance to upgrade the facility, make it more safe, more accessible, and more fun,” Stentz said. “The goal is to make the park relevant for another 90 years after we are gone, balancing respect for the past with planning for the future.”

The dilapidated wading pool at the park will be removed and replaced with a water spray park. Some residents of the town objected to the removal of the wading pool, but younger residents with children expressed excitement about the change.

Even with added footage, this will still be a small piece of property,” Stentz said of the expanded park. “A small number of residents want to keep the wading pool, but the pool cannot stay there.”

To meet health code regulations and be accessible to children with disabilities, a new wading pool would need to be twice as long and have a zero-depth entry area, Stentz said. The pool does not have a lifeguard. The Community Park Pool is within walking distance of the neighborhood and children are monitored there and taught to swim safely. The Community Park Pool offers scholarships to families that can’t afford the membership fees. This year about 80 families from the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood have applied for scholarships. Stentz said no one has been turned away from the pool because of an inability to pay the membership fees.

“It’s not wise to duplicate what we have so close by,” he said. “Philosophically why would we build a wading pool, and send a message to kids in the neighborhood that they should stay there to swim?”

Dodds Lane resident Daniel Harris said taking away the wading pool would be removing part of the history of segregated African American life. He claimed taking away the wading pool would be like the town taking away African American homes in the past to expand Palmer Square. He then said Princeton is still acting like “the northern most of southern cities.”

Library Place resident John Heilner said the town should not rush to finalize a design, and called on the town to give up more of the park property so that a second unit of affordable housing can be built. Heilner and a small group of residents calling themselves the Jackson Historic District Committee convinced the town last fall to let one of the two lots next to the park be used for affordable housing. About $250,000 from the town’s affordable housing trust fund was used to purchase that lot, and Habitat for Humanity will have to raise the money to build a house on the lot. Only one two-bedroom unit can be built on the lot because of the size of the property. Heilner said a second unit could be built that would be “slightly overlaid” on the lot that has been earmarked for the expanded park.  “I can’t imagine why you can’t shift the park slightly,” he said.

Alexi Assmus of Maple Street said the town should be able to raise the money for a second affordable housing unit. “We can raise money for  five-story hospital, so why can’t we raise money for affordable housing?” she said.

Dempsey Avenue resident Kip Cherry claimed there has been no open public process to review plans for the park.

Resident Bernadine Hines said the project was being fast-tracked. She said residents from the neighborhood had little say in the project and outsiders participated in the public meetings.

Resident Hendricks Davis said the town has not explained why the expansion is needed.

Several residents from the neighborhood spoke in favor of the project.

“We can’t be afraid of change,” said Carol Liverman.

Leighton Newlin said he initially opposed the changes, but was supportive after hearing the presentation Monday night by Stentz. “I came here tonight thinking wading pool or bust. But the most important thing is that people want to see the legacy and memory of Mary Moss continue, no matter what the design,” he said.

Kristina Corvin said the renovations would make a good park even more special. “This will impact a large number of people in a positive way,” she said.

“I was born and raised here, and splashed in that wading pool with my four children,” said Ashanti Thompson. “But the key thing, as was said, is to keep the legacy of Mary Moss going.  This will bring the community together a little more bring people from outside.”

Mercer County Freeholder Andrew Koontz, who also serves on the town’s recreation board, said the county gave the funding to the town for the expanded park and the spray ground. “Princeton needs to act as a good faith partner with the county and use the funding as promised, for the spray ground,” he said.

Council President Lance Liverman said residents in any other place “would grab something” this great. “I feel in my heart this will be a bonus for community,” he said.

Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said the town needs more parks for little kids.

A committee will now work on looking at what materials to use at the park. “We’ve received a lot of feeedback via email, surveys, and community meetings, primarily from people who live in the neighborhood,” Stentz said. Residents from the neighborhood will help develop historical information to be displayed at the park, he said.


  1. To understand why the concept of limited government is so popular in this country, reflect on Ben Stentz’s statement, “Philosophically why would we build a wading pool, and send a message to kids in the neighborhood that they should stay there to swim?” It’s hubris that the Recreation Department director feels empowered to decide that all people in a neighborhood have to do the same thing, and that pools are only good for swimming.

    As an alternate point of view, consider that a local wading pool is a valuable asset to the community, even if it doesn’t promote swimming and even if there is a much bigger pool only a little farther away.

    1. There are several liability issues with pools, which may be the actual reason.

      1. Spray parks are notorious for spreading bacteria. Birds who play in the spray leave their droppings in them, the spray valves harbor bacteria because they are hard to clean. etc. Liability issues aren’t going away with this choice.

        1. Interestingly, there is a spray park behind the Panera in West Windsor. I have only observed human children play there. I have also observed the lack of any bird droppings in that area.

          Perhaps you can provide a link to support your opening sentence?

          1. You can read a lot about spray parks at the CDC website & in EP studies. Cryptosporidium, aka Crypto, is a CDC tracked parasite most often reported in spray park closures, such as Tarpon Springs FL 2014, Seneca Falls, NY 2005 (1374 cases), & others. Threatening E-coli, Norovirus, Giardia & Salmonella are regularly recorded in samplings of spray park water. Inhalation & exposures to aerated Chemicals that treat the waters, treatment chemicals when combined with nitrogen in urine, & these microorganisms (e-coli, norovirus, giardia, crypto, salmonella) create serious flu like symptoms, rashes, infections etc. A case of giardia, for example, can be very threatening to a developing child. Many kids cannot help opening their mouths in the spray on a hot day, babysitters change diapers in or near the spray, kids have open sores, etc. A spray park is one hot mess that requires monitoring & upkeep. An organic community garden with garden hoses would be a much healthier, fun offering for our children. It wouldn’t harm anyone & would be cost-effective fun.

              1. Three in my family were infected by a water borne microorganism in a high end recreational area… an infant, a toddler, & one adult. Treatment was time consuming, costly, & the parasite depleted the kids of vital nutrients at a very critical time in life developmentally. We can never erase the pain & horror visited on us from having “fun”. Wouldn’t wish it on any family. Kids open their mouths on a hot day in the spray, they give a parent a cute sloppy kiss, all so innocent… and then the problems start.

                1. While I am sensitive to your personal circumstance, the evidence is not available to support your claim that the spray park would be dangerous if constructed and managed properly. I have spent significant time looking for evidence of illness outbreaks associated with splash/spray parks and there is little evidence of outbreaks after 2005 when stronger regulations were put in place in many municipalities in the US. In fact, the latest report from the CDC on outbreaks of illness associated with recreational water does not cite a single incidence of illness associated with splash/spray parks. More than 1,100 illness outbreaks were associated with recreational water in that most recent report covering 2011-12. Of those illness outbreaks, some were associated with public pools, hotels, spas and even natural bodies of water. According to the report, none was associated with a splash/spray park. I think MMP will be a wonderful play area with the Splash/spray park. These play spaces are quite safe when built and maintained properly.

                  1. It would be wonderful if what you wrote was true, since taxpayers are going to be supporting the longterm maintenance of this spray park no matter what. But you overlook recent spray park incidents like Tarpon Springs FL 2014. You overlook the fact that some parasites like crypto aren’t killed immediately/easily by any method, You overlook how microorganisms are circulated & shared. You overlook the cost of monitoring & maintenance over time. You overlook the environmental factors of the flow through pad choice, if that’s the spray design chosen. I was simply responding to Blake Cash when I posted here. It is totally understood that one never takes on Mickey in Disney World.

                    1. What I said is true. Your initial comments were that spray parks are “notorious for spreading bacteria.” At one time they may have been a hazard. However, there is no evidence that current hazards related to them is “notorious”. You can speculate all you would like about Princeton maintaining the park properly. But that is speculation, not evidence. it does not follow that these types of parks are hazardous in and of themselves.

  2. I, for one, am excited that this proposal passed. I live in the neighborhood with two young children and have never had the chance to use the toddler pool at MMP because it is only open from 9am-4pm M-F when many parents are working and children are in childcare/nursery school. Having a splash pad there will provide an affordable and accessible place for children to cool off during the summer months.

  3. As one resident at the meeting, who played in the pool and at the park as a child and now takes her daughter there, said she is excited for the change. “I view this as progress,” she said. Progress, it is. What a wonderful way to honor the legacy of Mary Moss–by calling attention once again to her work in the neighborhood, educating the next generation on what came before (by the conversation we are already having and by a historical display that is much needed there), and by creating a new space for the community to come together to talk about the past AND the future. Mary Moss, an educator and advocate, would’ve likely supported this change. If you live in the neighborhood (sadly, most of the loudest voices denouncing the plan don’t even live there and probably haven’t known a two-year-old in decades) you would see that the wading pool is GROSSLY underutilized because it is outdated and the entire system running it is outdated. As someone else commented here (and several times at the Monday meeting as well), if you are a working family your children cannot even have the opportunity to go there. What good is an empty, aging structure for the community? Progress, dear residents, progress. Let’s focus on that.

  4. I get it… but Princeton does what it wants… and nothing is going to stop that!

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