Rooftop Football

Union City's new football stadium has views of Manhattan thanks to its location on the roof of its new high school.

Union City High School’s unusual rooftop sports complex will host up to 4,500 fans (with a view of Manhattan) upon its scheduled completion in September 2009.
photo by Marc Steiner

The flat roofs of Union City, the most densely populated metropolis in the United States, were once legendary places. Pigeon coops dotted the rooftops and on summer nights neighbors ascended to the “tar beaches” to escape the heat. These days, while the streets are filled with the pell-mell of urban life, the rooftops are quiet. The pigeon coops are gone and air conditioners have made tar beach obsolete.

But on one block, the rooftop is poised for a comeback.  When the 366,550-square-foot Union City High School and Athletic Complex opens in September 2009, up to 4,500 people will be able to watch football and other sports on its 4½- acre rooftop. “That’s right—football on the roof,” says Mark Skevington of Summit Redevelopers, the Piscataway-based developer. “We even added a 40-foot-high net in each end zone to make sure field goals and extra points don’t land in the street.”

It will be football with a view—as I learned on a recent visit to the construction site. To the east, the New York skyline looms above the surrounding houses. To the west, the Watchung Mountains fill the horizon. The drone of cars on Kennedy Boulevard is the only reminder that a busy city percolates two stories below.  

Funded by the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, the $175 million facility on the site of the old Roosevelt Stadium is one of six “demonstration projects” around the state (the others are in East Orange, Trenton, Camden, Vineland, and New Brunswick). The future Union City High will combine two schools—Emerson and Union Hill—into one, and, says Skevington, will include “a health screening and child-care center, a performing arts auditorium, 66 classrooms, a media center, and a 21,000-square-foot gym.”

The rooftop stadium is believed to be the first of its kind in New Jersey. Seven light stanchions will illuminate the field at night. The field surface crowns in the middle to make sure water runs off and into a series of drains. Below the synthetic turf, there will be five sub-layers, some of which will provide waterproofing  to proect the school below.

 Project superintendent Rick Chess of Epic Management in Piscataway, says the massive 10-foot trusses that support the roof are unlike any he has seen in his 20-year career. “This is an engineer’s ‘field of dreams,’” Chess says. “Over 4,000 people could be up here stomping their feet at the same time and this field won’t move an inch.”

That was comforting to know as we moved to the edge of the building for a look over the side. Just then, a flock of pigeons landed in the bleachers.  In Union City, there is still no higher form of approval than that of the pigeons.

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