CALDWELL, NJ - The Caldwell Community Center (CCC) task force met for their second meeting via a Zoom platform this past Thursday evening. The meetings will focus separately on the following topics: Historical Perspective, Aquatics, Fitness & Camps, Physical Facility including the parking deck, Finances and Marketing, Grants & Fundraising. The first meeting took place two weeks ago and a historical perspective was presented by former Mayor Paul Jemas.
The second meeting was devoted to discussing the swimming pool usage and the impact the closure has had or will have on residents and the local swim teams who utilize the facility. Council President Christine Schmidt facilitated in arranging for the various swim teams representation in addition to seeking advice and comments from individuals who can address the complexities of managing the facilities.
Moderated by Caldwell Business Administrator Thomas Banker, the task force committee had the opportunity to listen to comments by task force advisory members Samantha Balducci and Evelyn VanWagner who represent the Caldwell Cannons, Jim Stack and Marty Visitacion, representing the Caldwell Cyclones. Dan Romano, Athletic Director for the Caldwell-West Caldwell School district and Peter Byrne who has expertise in facilities management and serves on Caldwell’s Planning Board.
Dan Romano has been the Athletic Director for the school district for 32 years noted that the district offers 23 different sports and that 70% of the students participate in a sport. He confirmed that swimming was the third most popular sport in the district with 85 participants, while usually other districts teams have between 15-20 on their teams. He began by stating that closing of the pool with be a “major blow to the program” which started in 2001 when the CCC opened. He noted that when the program began the cost to the district was approximately $7,000-$8,000 annually for renting the facility and the current cost is $17,500. He confirmed that other districts pay an average of $11,000 for access to a pool for their teams however since there was no cost involved for busing and the convenience of having prime time immediately after school the district was accepting of the higher fee. He stressed the district concerned itself that the student athletes had prime time for practice noting that it was not in the students best interest to have practice five nights a week in the evening.
Romano stated in the event that the pool is not to re-open, due diligence is being conducted to seek alternative sites such as the Montclair YMCA, Fairleigh Dickenson University and NJIT noting that there is always competition for prime time for practices. However it would be expected that practice may be as early as 5:00 A.M or as late as 7:00-9:00 P.M. and the ability to provide a program for 80 students would be reduced to half of that to allow for one bus not two to transport the students and that is not considering possible social-distancing requirements that would be issued by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) the governing body that regulates high school athletics. Romano confirmed in addition to practices all swim meets are held at the CCC. Romano stated that there has been “no guidance for winter sports yet from the NJSIAA and limited guidance to date for the Fall”.
Task force member Lou Renzetti questioned if all members of the high school swim team are CCC members, but Romano did not know. Banker did confirm that there currently is no charge for either admissions to the meets or for parking, the borough only receives the facility usage fee.
Samantha Balducci a 14-year member of the CCC has been the coach for the Caldwell Cannons for five years which is a special needs swim team whose participants range from 8 ½ years old to adult, offered information about the team. She noted the team provides the members not just an opportunity to be engaged in a team sport but that it was a very necessary life skill that was being taught as “drowning was a very prevalent issue” with this population. The Cannons were founded 10 years ago, and their season begins in January, all Cannons are required to become CCC members. She confirmed that the closing of the childcare program did affect the membership and there was a need for greater professional development amongst the staff to effectively work with this population.
Evelyn VanWagner, who manages the ice rink scheduling at the Codey Arena in West Orange and is a Cannon coach stated that Cannons have gone on to join local swim teams and high school programs. Banker noted the discussion was lending itself to “congestion pricing” meaning different fees set for different times of the day with the more ideal time being priced higher.
Marty Visitacion, representing the Caldwell Cyclones has been with the team since 2001. The Cyclones range in age from 6-18 years old and “contribute to the financial stability of the CCC” according to Visitacion, as members of the Cyclones must be members of the CCC. He noted the feeder program where children will first have private instruction, then become members of the Cyclones and eventually become members of the high school team. There are approximately 120 children in the program, with about 30 in a group and there are four or five coaches on staff. He confirmed that registration takes place in August and the season will run from September through March with a second season that runs in the Spring from April through June, during the summer the team is utilizes Verona Pool.
Visitacion stressed if the pool is not open in September the CCC will lose the financial benefits of the Cyclones and the high school teams utilizing the facility. Furthermore, if the pool does reopen by January 1, 2021, since the swim meets are in February and would need to be booked prior then those fees as revenue will be lost too. Task force member Jesus Navarro questioned what was the “drop dead date” the teams would need to know by whether the pool was to be open by January 1st. Both Visitacion and Romano indicated that they need to know asap “as families are moving on this already” as well as school districts however for the Cannons their season begins on January 1st so in the event the pool does reopen in January and not before they were okay.
Visitacion questioned as the process proceeds looking at the CCC as a whole, can there be an opportunity to keep the pool running for the various teams usages. Schmidt was cautious and voiced her concerns regarding opening the pool “in the midst of the pandemic” and was interested in further guidance on the matter from the health department. Task force member Theresa Hunt questioned if other indoor pools were currently open and Visitacion indicated only outdoor pools are allowed to be open at this time however there is an expectation that further guidelines will be issued in mid-July regarding indoor pools. Banker and Schmidt agreed that it would be prudent to add a subcommittee to investigate the health-related considerations that may affect the CCC’s opening.
Peter Byrne addressed the complexities of scheduling the facility and how to maximize efficiency and revenue. Unlike ice hockey the swimming pool is not available from 5:00 AM – 3:00 AM, 22 hours daily. So the considerations of who is the target audience, how often do they need access and that it would be best to “aggressively look at seasonal based scheduling” He noted that the Cyclones, Cannons and the high school team were “jewels in the crown of the CCC”.
Byrne stated that it would be advantageous to host different meets as a revenue generator. An example of scheduling consideration is that it is best to have a “mommy and me” swim class mid-morning vs late afternoon and that it was important to get the programs identified. He also noted that members who are not on teams and want access to the pool must be taken into consideration. He cautioned that if the pool were not available by September (provided it was allowable under the health guidelines pertaining to COVID19) the opportunity to get back the high school teams and clubs would take years to recoup since they would have moved on to other venues. He commented that the pool was in good shape and could be opened.
Task force member Mary Campion took the opportunity to confirm she did a walk through and the pool can be opened. Campion also requested that the entire process be expedited so a decision can be made prior to the Fall on the status of the pool. Mayor John Kelley responded it was possible to move up the scheduled every other week task force meetings to perhaps weekly, however it was a time factor compiling all the data for weekly meetings versus every two weeks as planned for.
Questions were raised by task force members asking for confirmation that the pool was self-sufficient financially. Banker stated that the CCC loses about $500,000 annually. Campion requested the task force be given a spread sheet in order to delineate where specifically those monies were lost.
During the height of the Zoom meeting there were 90 people in attendance. The next task force meeting will be July 9th and the topic will be Fitness and Camps.