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$8M Youth Sports Complex Opens on Cleaned Site in Camden's Whitman Park

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The Camden Institute site began as a city hospital in the 1920s and eventually fell into disrepair. The building housed the homeless and was patrolled by stray cats. The mercury-contaminated property has become an illegal dumping ground that school children must pass every day.

On Thursday, officials inaugurated the newly renovated $8 million sports complex. At this facility, an artificial turf soccer field spans an old polluted site.It’s part of a complete transformation of Whitman Park: The Sport The complex has expanded from 6 acres to 10 and serves as the centerpiece of the park.

The process took a year, as the four-acre lab site had to be demolished and cleaned in order to fit into the existing complex. Improvements include new basketball courts, ballpark renovations, and construction of his second ballpark. Work also included new playgrounds, lighting, scoreboards, concessions, function rooms, shaded areas, bathrooms and cooling sprinklers.

“Seeing what we had before and what we have now is like a dream come true,” said Desmond Newville. President of Baseball Operations for Whitman Park Little League.

Brad Hawkins Sr., coach of the Whitman Park Tigers’ youth football program, said he cried when he saw the finished project. a few weeks ago.

Hawkins said five citizens who played youth football are now in the NFL. The list of players is His sons Brad Hawkins Jr. on the New England Patriots practice team and Herson Reddick of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We spent a lot of time and a lot of money trying to put this football program together and find the resources to raise money,” Hawkins said. “It’s been challenging over the years.”

Now his players can be proud of the field they play on, he said.

The site that became Camden Laboratories was first developed by the city in the 1920s as the Camden Municipal Hospital for Contagious Diseases. In the 1950s, it was transformed into the South Jersey Medical Research Foundation Laboratory and home to the Coryell Institute for Medical Research.

Over the decades, the original building was demolished and a laboratory building was built in its place through the 1980s.

Camden Laboratories purchased the site in 1989 and conducted a series of medical studies. There was a lab there until 2007.

Some of the land and buildings had been polluted over the years, but were not a threat to nearby residents. Animals were used in the laboratory to study disease and responses to viruses. Their corpses were incinerated and their ashes discarded off-site.

An investigation by the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) found that the spilled mercury contaminated a 24-foot-by-34-foot patch of soil and penetrated to a depth of 23 feet. About 1,000 tons of soil had to be removed. Other stains have also been cleaned up.

Seven dilapidated buildings had to be demolished. Contractors removed the dirt and prepped the athletics field.

This work was funded by a $2.1 million DEP grant and a $750,000 grant from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency. The Camden Redevelopment Authority was also involved in the restoration.

All in all, demolition and cleanup cost about $3 million. Renovations and new construction of the complex cost an additional $5 million and were funded by other sources including donations from the DEP, Camden Redevelopment Authority, Camden County, and the Jaworski Foundation.

The Whitman Park project is part of a $19 million Camden County plan to improve 10 parks in the city.

Jaworski said he was “stunned” when he stepped onto the field. “This was literally a dump.

Mayor Vic Carsterfen recalled when he and Jaworski visited the site to break ground a year ago.

“The old Camden Lab site has had a negative impact on this community over the years,” says Carstarphen. “Now look what we stand for.”

County Commissioner Jeffrey Nash recalled a conversation with Hawkins. Hawkins asked why Camden kids can’t have “the type of playground that suburban kids enjoy every day.”

Now it does, said Nash.

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