METUCHEN — A poet garden is envisioned for the land between Metuchen Borough Hall and the Metuchen Public Library.
Former Friends of the Metuchen Library President Sondra Flite asked members Ken Sammond and Richard Miller to devise a plan to renovate and revitalize the grounds of the library.
“When I saw the plan I thought this was overwhelming, but because it’s broken into small pieces I think it will be manageable and I think this will really enrich the space,” Flite said.
Sammond said the grounds are owned by the borough.
“We see the library grounds as an underdeveloped green asset in the middle of town that can be renovated and redeveloped,” he said.
Sammond and Miller said they are seeking approval from the borough to use the property to make improvements to the area.
“Currently there is no theme, no idea and no sense of purpose related to the land,” Sammond said, adding the land is sometimes used by library patrons, and Library Director John Arthur gives small concerts in the area.
The land currently is all grass with some trees and picnic tables.
Sammond said they thought it would be a great idea to provide a vibrant center triangle that unites the library, borough hall and the fire department, which is across the street.
“We envision it to become a unified space centralized all around this poet garden,” he said. “We will integrate the library building as a place to read, meditate, gather and conduct small events. It is already used for those things, but [with a poet garden it] would be a much more pleasing space in which we can do these sorts of things.”
Sammond said they researched other poet gardens before putting together the proposed plan. He said he learned of one in Rochester, New York, and one in Munich.
“There are Shakespeare gardens with plaques and plantings all around the world at libraries, parks and universities,” he said. “There is one in Central Park [in New York City] and one in Plainfield at Cedar Brook Park designed by Fred Olmsted Jr.”
He said they envision the poet garden in Metuchen to represent the five major continents as well as the community with the likes of John Ciardi, an Italian-American poet and Metuchen native; Joyce Kilmer, an American writer and poet, who grew up in Mahwah and attended Rutgers University; and Walt Whitman, an American poet, who lived in Camden.
Sammond said other inspirational people who could be represented in the poet garden include Bruce Springsteen, who grew up in Freehold Borough; Reneé Ashley, an American poet, novelist and educator, who teaches at Fairleigh Dickinson University; Patti Smith, an American singer-songwriter from Howell; and Roger Pinsky, an American poet, who was born in Long Branch.
“We thought Metuchen has become more of a destination town and we would want to have the idea that our grounds, our greens, should be dedicated as destination places too,” he said.
In the poet garden, Sammond said they would like to also show the multiple cultural heritages of the borough.
In the proposed plan, Miller said they created an oval lawn space in the center part of the area.
“We would probably put some sort of crown on it so that it would have better drainage so it could be used even if it’s a little wet,” he said.
Sammond said the land has drainage problems.
“If it rains just a little bit it is difficult to do events [on the grounds],” he said.
Miller said the current Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial along Route 27 will remain where it is. The proposal calls for evergreen trees to screen the area between Route 27 and the Borough Hall parking lot.
“There will be plaques placed along pathways and there will be lighting throughout the paths,” he said. “Possibly we could get donated columns and create a semi-circular feature that could maybe be the backdrop for a stage … that could come later.”
Miller said the proposed plan provides an easy maintenance of the grass areas.
“There will probably have to be weeding,” he said. “The Garden Club agreed to help the library as well as myself and Ken until things can get established and the weeds are gone.”
Miller said the proposed poet garden provides a plethora of opportunities, including scavenger hunts for young poets in bloom.
“We will work with the library to have a verse contest where people in the community can choose the verses on the plaques,” Sammond said.
The cost for the proposed project is estimated at $54,400 and will be raised through private funds.
“We have already spoken to some people,” Miller said, noting the estimated cost may be reduced due to donations for the project. “There are one or two people who are pledging between $5,000 and $10,000.”
Miller said the trees and shrubs are estimated to be $10,000 and the labor to plant the trees and shrubs is estimated at $14,700, concrete paths are estimated at $6,500, gravel is $500, plaques are $2,500, two trash cans are $700, and commercial lighting and installation are estimated at $10,000.
Miller said the Friends of the Library, a non-profit organization, would purchase all the amenities and get the work done for the project.
“We are not taking anything out of anybody’s taxes,” he said. “We are planning on trying to do this all with private and public donations as much as possible.”
Some council members and the public suggested engraved pavers or benches as fundraising ideas. For people who buy a paver or bench, their name can be engraved in the paver or bench.
Sammond said they have set an ambitious timetable, with construction/grading to begin in spring 2019 and the opening with plantings and plaque placing in the summer of next year.
Miller said the project does not have to be implemented all at once.
“We can implement various aspects of the project as the funds are available,” he said.
Sammond said some preliminary and design work had been completed in summer 2017. In October 2017, the Library Board of Trustees voted to support the plan.
Councilwoman Allison Inserro, who served as liaison to the library board last year, said she supports the project.
“I think it’s a lovely idea,” she said. “It creates many opportunities for community involvement.”
Councilman Todd Pagel addressed his concerns about the inadequate parking in the area.
Miller agreed; however, he said the Friends of the Library decided to focus fundraising efforts on the garden part.
“[Extending the library] parking lot would be very, very expensive,” he said.
Township officials said they would take a look at parking in the area.
Borough Attorney Denis Murphy said he would get back to the council on whether or not the council has to approve a formal resolution for the project to move forward.
Contact Kathy Chang at email@example.com.