When the call came that a boy had fallen into a well at the old reservoir on Summit and Jefferson avenues last week, officials were alarmed but not surprised.
Despite warning signs on the northwest gate saying “No Trespassing,” local kids have long used the closed reservoir as a private park.
“Everything happens in the reservoir,” said Cleopatra Wingard, principal of P.S. 11, who previously worked as part of the administration of a middle school adjacent to the reservoir a half block from where the incident occurred. “We heard about things that happen, and they always seem to happen at the reservoir.”
The site is a kind of wasteland that includes several buildings which have been smeared with graffiti.
Kids from various schools often sneak onto the property. Some of it is harmless adventure. But locals residents claim that gangs and other groups go there for more nefarious activities.
Although the gate to the property is usually locked, and the wall along Summit, Central, and Summit avenues is 20 feet high, kids climb into the site via a lower wall near Pershing Field.
The problem is that the site borders a popular sports complex in the Heights, and is located near several schools. A new elementary school is currently under construction directly across Jefferson Avenue and the place where the teenage boy fell into the well. (He was promptly rescued from the knee-deep water by firefighters and largely unharmed.)
Although technically closed to the public except for fishing and wildlife studies by groups such as the Boy Scouts, the reservoir is one of the most popular hangouts in the Heights for teens who often climb over the fence to access the more remote, overgrown areas.
The rescue operation
At 7:45 p.m. on May 10, two police officers responded to the site after being flagged down by two kids in front of St. Josephs School for the blind at 761 Summit Ave.
The kids pointed to the Jersey City Reservoir on the east side of the street.
“There was one male waving to us in front of the old reservoir pump house,” the police report said.
The police entered the site through the gate at the northwest corner of the block long reservoir and climbed to the top of the wall that encircles the reservoir. They made their way to the pump house where the boy had reportedly fallen into a well.
“Upon our arrival, we met with a Boy Scout master who claimed that it wasn’t one of his kids, that all of his kids were accounted for,” said the report.
By this time, several other units including EMTs from Jersey City Medical Center had arrived in the area.
“One of the juveniles on the scene directed us to where [the boy] had fallen inside the pump house. He had gained access from the outside by standing on a one inch ledge over approximately a 25-foot drop to the reservoir water to climb through a partially blocked off window (North-East Corner),” the report said. “One of the JCMC EMTs climbed through the window into the pump house with help from his partner to assess the victim’s condition. The Jersey City Fire Department arrived on the scene with multiple apparatus and the fire chief on duty.”
The police searched the perimeter of the building looking for another access point and found a boarded up door on the northwest corner of the building.
“The JCFD cut through the outer plywood cover screwed over the main door of the pump house and forced the inner door open to gain access to the structure,” the report said. “Two more juveniles, one male one female, came out of the structure when the door was opened. The two juveniles stated that they climbed inside to help when he called for help. They also stated that he climbed in the pump house to get his tablet when he dropped it inside the structure.”
While the Fire Department and EMTs were working inside the pump house, police spoke with the kids to gather more information about what had happened.
At about 8:45 p.m., fire officials managed to extract the boy from the pipe. He had a bloody nose, bloody scratches on his shoulders and arms, and was missing his shoes. He was wet to his knees from the muddy water.
Police said “his face was pale and he was shaking.”
Ward C Councilman Richard Boggiano said he was concerned about the incident.
“The property has to be properly secured,” he said. “For years people have been swimming in the reservoir.”
He said schools and parents should be talking to the kids about issues such as this.
Plan to make it a park fell through
Jersey City Reservoir No. 3, a 13.8 acre site just south of Pershing Field, was constructed in the 1870s and provided water to the rest of the city including Ellis Island until it was decommissioned in the 1980s.
Surrounded by a 20-foot tall stone wall, the site has become something of a nature preserve, with trees, animals and other wildlife inhabiting the shore of a 6-acre lake.
The city has hoped to turn the site into a park. Last year, Mayor Steven Fulop floated a plan that would allow a trash transfer operation to start up in the Greenville Yards in southern Jersey City in exchange for the $10 million needed to turn the reservoir into a recreation and nature park.
He withdrew the plan when neighborhood associations in Greenville protested.