Prehistoric Park Constructed by TSG Given Excellence in Design Award
March 5, 2014
The Prehistoric Park and Playground at West Orange’s Turtle Back Zoo, designed by Suburban Consulting Engineers and constructed by The Shauger Group (TSG) in 2013, was recently awarded the Excellence in Design Award by the New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association (NJRPA). NJRPA presented the award to the project’s owner, Essex County Parks, on March 4, 2014, during NJRPA’s Annual Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the architects and engineers from Suburban Consulting Engineers,” said Tommy Kunc-Jasinski, Junior Project Supervisor. “They did a great job designing it.”
The Prehistoric Park not only replaced an existing playground on the property, which was demolished upon completion of the new park, but also was conceived of, designed, and built with an eye towards its educational value. The playground was created to foster children’s interest in prehistoric animals, conservation, and archaeology through its fun and interactive play structures, decorations, and fossil dig sites.
As always, TSG’s first involvement began with its estimating department. After the department compiled final pricing figures for materials, labor, and subcontractors, it submitted its final bid sealed to the County of Essex. The bid opening was held on April 10, 2013, at which time TSG was determined to be the lowest responsible responsive bidder. The Notice to Proceed, issued by the County of Essex Department of Public Works on April 18, 2013, specified that the project was to be completed within 120 calendar days by August 19, 2013.
“The bid spread for this project was a little over one percent, again a testament to the work performed by the estimating department, which enabled me to have all information necessary to submit a competitive bid,” said Matthew Mulligan, Vice President of Operations.
On March 25, 2013, prior to the bid opening date, the Hudson-Essex-Passaic Soil Conservation District had certified the soil erosion and sediment control plan for the project. The certification sent to the County, which was valid for three and a half years from the date of issuance, was subject to certain requirements involving future construction activities, inspections, and landscaping services. Once TSG was appointed as the contractor for the project, all work performed by TSG and its subcontractors was governed by those conditions.
TSG began construction on the project in May 2013, at the same time it also began working on the Treetop Adventure Course, which was being built adjacent to the Turtle Back Zoo. The general congestion and bustling activity near the site were a hindrance at times to the construction process. TSG quickly learned that the narrow roads and access road were frequently blocked, as well as that, once the zoo opened on a daily basis, zoo visitors’ parked cars caused difficulties with deliveries. As a result, whenever any materials, such as retaining wall blocks and stones, were delivered, TSG had to ensure that they would arrive before 7:30 a.m. or after the zoo closed in the evening.
When working, TSG also had to remain cognizant of a nearby wetland buffer zone, which is an area of vegetation sectioned off to protect and preserve ecosystems. The buffer zone in this case consisted of a stream close to the site. Remaining in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Environmental Protection, TSG worked within a secured area surrounded by fencing and gates. TSG also took certain protective measures, such as installing silt fence and hay bales, to ensure that nothing ran off the site into other areas, such as the stream or nearby walkways.
Prolonged periods of poor weather conditions also posed several challenges to the construction process.
The exceptionally high levels of rain during that spring and summer continuously washed out the access road leading to the construction site. Moreover, with working conditions much worse than they typically are, TSG was forced to come up with creative solutions to compensate for the extreme saturation of the ground.
“Tony Moleiro did a great job as foreman,” said Kunc-Jasinski. “The ground was so saturated; everyone was worried that it would not be properly compacted. We were lucky to have a stretch of three or four warm days when it didn’t rain. Tony took advantage of it, opening ditches one after another to let the soil dry out. He put it back in and compacted it, and we met the compaction requirements.”
TSG laid down a perimeter of stone as the foundation and used a Wacker Neuson RTSC2 trench roller—a remote-controlled compactor—to drive over the ground in order to compress it. On top of that layer of stones, retaining wall blocks were laid. The retaining wall blocks, which were particularly sizeable, were each chained to an excavator bucket and set individually in their proper locations by two field workers. TSG spent a few weeks installing the bottom and top retaining walls.
TSG then focused on the drainage aspect, inserting draining pipes to ensure that rainwater and other precipitation would channel properly out the back.
Next, TSG leveled off the area enclosed within the retaining wall perimeter. This was a complicated job, as the surveyor had planted stakes in the ground to prepare the job site for the project. Because the stakes specified precise locations, the operator had to skillfully maneuver around the stakes—often in incredibly tight spaces—to make certain that none of the stakes got knocked off their exact coordinates.
TSG subsequently laid down stone, followed by colored concrete and a rubberized safety surface. Finally, the installation of the slides and other playground equipment, which was done by a subcontractor, Corby Associates, Inc., took place. GameTime, the company that manufactured the playground figures used for this project, showed sample miniature glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) structures for approval before providing the actual-sized equipment. Nevertheless, TSG employees were astonished by the impressive equipment when it arrived for installation.
A crane was brought in to set the playground equipment in place.
“The crane work in such a tight area was executed without a hitch by our subcontractor, Vergona Crane,” said Brian DeCesare, Project Manager. “During the early morning hours on a Saturday, before the Turtle Back Zoo was open for business, Matt Mulligan and I observed as the enormous sections of playground equipment were placed perfectly.”
Ultimately, TSG was able to finish all facets of the project early, which allowed the playground to open a few weeks ahead of schedule. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on July 31, 2013.
“The complete crew, including Project Manager, Brian DeCesare; Site Work Foreman, Tony Moleiro; Construction Foreman, Mike Augustine; Landscaping Foreman, Rocky Ialeggio; and the many in-house Shauger employees, was instrumental in making this project special,” said Mulligan.
DeCesare and Mulligan both credited TSG’s subcontractors with providing quality work for different facets of the project.
“As usual, our subcontractors’ performance was top notch,” said DeCesare. “Turnpike Electric, Corby Associates, Coba Tree Service, McCutcheon Associates, and Absolute Fence Services all had a hand in making this project unique.”
For TSG employees, it was a particularly enjoyable project, especially when they saw what a significant impact it would have on young kids.
“Kids would come up to us during the construction process and ask us what we were doing,” said Kunc-Jasinski. “When you told them it was going to be a dinosaur playground, their eyes would light up. It brought you back to when you were a kid.”
Today the Prehistoric Park is a fun and educational outlet for children of all age ranges. A boardwalk path leads to the park’s front entrance, which is framed by a pterodactyl-themed entryway. Bearing left once passing under the archway, visitors encounter a designated fossil dig area, which is sheltered under a canopy. Children, in the shade provided by the canopy, can spend time digging through stones and pebbles in an attempt to uncover the fossils hidden underneath them. The fossil dig area also provides an ADA-compliant fossil dig table to accommodate youth with disabilities, as well as multiple backhoe diggers in the sand aggregate and a cave art chalkboard. The playground also features a sabre-toothed tiger climber and a prehistoric tree of life for children ages five to twelve, and a dinosaur climber and “rumble and roll” play structure for children ages two to five.