Moorestown council moves toward an ordinance on Percheron Park

Work could begin on the site this summer.

It’s off to the races for Percheron Park, the pocket park planned for the corner of Main and High streets.

Moorestown Township Council has authorized Township Manager Thomas Merchel to proceed with creating a bond ordinance that will be included in council’s next agenda, the first step toward construction at the long awaited park.

The township purchased the Main Street location – formerly a gas station – in 2008. In 2013, the Friends of Percheron Park began fundraising for the park project, and at the time, the group received estimates for construction costs; elements of the site; and the life-size bronze statue of a Percheron horse, a nod to Moorestown native Edward Harris II, who brought the first Percheron stallions to the United States from France in 1839. 

Puritan Oil was responsible for remediating the park site, a process that was completed in 2019. The Friends expected New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection to sign off on the site by April, but the pandemic delayed  final approvals.

Neil Werket, a landscape architect with Environmental Resolutions Inc., informed council at its  April 26 virtual meeting that the preliminary estimate for the project is around $216,000, a  decrease from the $350,000 cited in the previous plan presented to council.

To cut costs, the design forgoes some of the decorative elements, including using stamped concrete in favor of regular concrete and eliminating brick work on the back of some of the seat walls. Werket explained to council that it’s hard to give the township a firm preliminary cost element because COVID has caused a fluctuation of materials. 

“It’s kind of hard for us to give you a solid number without wanting to  provide a little bit of protection for the township itself,” he added. “We want to make sure you have enough money to do the project when it goes out to bid.”

Kathy Logue, president of the Friends of Percheron Park, said the group has raised approximately $195,000 since 2013. Of that, the Friends have about $102,000 in the bank, with some of the funds spent on fundraising expenses over the years. Approximately $50,000 has been paid to the sculptor working on the bronze horse.

The Friends are committed to covering the landscaping, a historical marker, impressions with donors’ names on them, a donor sign and the bronze statue. The cost of the statue jumped from about $82,000 in 2014 to around $110,000 due to the increased cost of bronze.

Logue said the group will continue to raise funds until the park is dedicated and fully complete.  Remaining dollars will be donated to the township, with the intent of putting money aside for an ongoing maintenance fund. 

“It’s our intention, it’s our hope, that the park will be built this summer [and] dedicated this fall,” she said. 

Mayor Nicole Gillespie said she’s learned that the Friends’ fundraising has been stymied by years-long delays, leaving potential donors reluctant to donate. 

“I get why people are hesitant to donate, because it’s been so long, and [they] might be more willing once things get moving,” Gillespie added. “I think council should go ahead with this.”

Other council members agreed the project was worthy, but expressed concerns about the price.

“It’s a large chunk of money for a very small park,” said Councilman Jake Van Dyken.

Van Dyken said he understands prices increase over time, but he wondered if there were other budget items that could be cut to bring down the cost without sacrificing the park’s quality.

Councilman David Zipin said he’s excited to see the project move forward, with a reservation.

“I think that the need for some sort of community gathering space on Main Street that doesn’t lean so heavily on the Community House is crucial,” he said. “I wish it was not as expensive of an endeavor.” 

Werket said if everything unfolds as planned, the project could be out to bid by June, with shovels in the ground by August. He said from there, he projects the construction will take  about 60 days. 

The mayor told Logue to inform the township about how it can help with the Friends’ fundraising efforts. In the meantime, council is set to have a bond ordinance up for first reading at its May 10 meeting.

“It feels good to finally get some motion on this project; it’s been a long time coming,” Gillespie said.