MONTCLAIR, NJ - On Thursday, dozens gathered for the reopening of the Wally Choice Community Center, located at Glenfield Park.
Closed in May for renovations, it reopened much to the delight of the many organizations and citizens that use the facility.
Such organizations that utilize the facility most, were in attendance, such as, Montclair Grass Roots, Do Drop In (senior program), Project Oasis, Montclair Cobras, Montclair NAACP and the Montclair Police Athletic League, to name a few.
Arriving on the grounds, one is greeted by the newly placed marker designating Wally Choice's place in history as a keeper of the park and founder of the 51-year Grass Roots Program. This designation is surrounded by a newly laid driveway and parking area. Approaching the exterior of the center, one can view the large letters blazoned on the walls, replacing the signs that formerly were in place.
Entering the building, noticeable improvements have been made to include the following: lighting fixtures, upgraded restaurant-style kitchen, wood flooring, painted walls, expanded storage space, two large TVs, central air conditioning, refurbished bathrooms and the addition of a handicapped bathroom.
Zoni Ball, 86, who attends the Do Drop In commented, "I'm glad to be returning. Coming here provides me with a place to go enjoy myself and keep busy and active."
The Community Center, named for Montclair Grass Roots' founder Wally Choice in 2009, received a complete makeover.
Restrooms were upgraded with new fixtures to meet current ADA codes; the kitchen was modernized with new equipment; the ceiling and floor tiles were replaced; HVAC, fire alarm and lighting systems were upgraded; interior and exterior walls were painted and refinished; and exterior lighting was upgraded. The paved area in front of the community center also received a facelift. The asphalt surface was replaced with brick pavers and a new driveway onto Maple Avenue was created so motorists do not have to drive through the park to reach the parking area. New landscaping also was planted. Work started in early March was completed in four months.
On hand for the re-opening celebration was Essex County Executive Joseph Divencenzo and staff, Freeholder President Brendon Gill, Mayor Robert Jackson, Councilor Renee Baskerville, Councilor Robert Russo, Wallace and Celine Choice (Montclair Grassroots), Katherine Nicholas (Do Drop In), and various leaders from the Montclair Police Department.
In the tradition of ribbon cuttings, several guests and organizational leaders were invited to say a few words.
Gill said, "Its a very special moment whether you are new to Montclair or have deep roots, like I do. This is a testament to the legacy of Mr. & Mrs. Choice."
DiVincenzo, Jr. announced that the project to modernize the Wally Choice Community Center and parking lot in Essex County Glenfield Park was completed as part of the County Executive's ongoing initiative to modernize parks and recreation facilities to ensure they meet the community's needs.
Mayor Jackson added, "This is a real proud day for Montclair. I'm proud to be a son of Glenfield Park. I grew up in this park, in this park house. While this is the new shell, the real soul is the heart that people bring."
The modernized building and new parking area drew rave reviews from community leaders and local elected officials.
Baskerville continued the Mayor's sentiment saying, "Like the Mayor, I too am a daughter of Glenfield Park. I had one of my first jobs working for Grass Roots. One thing that I hope we can continue, is the family feel.
DiVincenzo added, "The Wally Choice Community Center is a landmark building in Montclair and is the home base for a variety of organizations, recreation programs and events. The fresh, new look of the building makes it a more inviting place for park visitors and will ensure the community's needs are met for generations to come."
"This is a special day. The County has done a wonderful job updating this building, and we will make sure it continues to serve the community for another 50 years," said Celine Choice, wife of Wally Choice, the founder of Montclair Grassroots and the person for whom the community center is named.
"This represents a lot of work and the improvements will benefit everyone who uses the building," Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation President Al Pelham said.
USA Architects from Newark was awarded a $168,500 contract to design the upgrades to the Wally Choice Community Center and two comfort stations in Essex County Brookdale Park. Barreto Dowd Landscape Architects from Howell designed the new parking lot. Daskal Construction from Wallington was awarded a publicly-bid contract for $1,103,660 to perform the construction work.
The improvements were funded with grants from the NJ Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund, and the Essex County Capital Budget.
"We are looking forward to being back here for summer camp. Thank you to the County Executive and Freeholders for making this happen," said Katherine Nichols, who manages the Grassroots summer camp.
In 2017, the tennis courts and basketball courts, named for the late Bobby Hurt, were resurfaced and new equipment was installed. In 2015, the playground and restroom building received a facelift.
In addition, the football field and two softball diamonds were modernized that same year. The football field and softball diamond near the community center were upgraded with new irrigation and drainage systems and resurfaced with sod to improve playing conditions. Football and soccer goals were installed on the field. A synthetic grass surface was installed on the softball field in the eastern section of the park.
In 2006, a major renovation included rehabilitating the tennis and basketball courts, developing a new horseshoe pit, repairing the perimeter wrought iron fence, installing an eight-station exercise course, enhancing the aesthetics of the park entranceways, installing new picnic tables, repairing the community building and field house, and removing dead trees and branches, according to county officials. During this time, Essex County partnered with Montclair Grass Roots to obtain funding from the New Jersey Green Acres program and the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.
Celine Choice proudly added, "This is a very special day and this year Montclair Grass Roots celebrates 51 years of service. We (Wally Choice and I) would like to thank everyone who helped along the way. We did a great job taking care of the space for the past 50 years and I'm sure it will be here another 50 more or so in years to come."
For information, go to www.montclairgrassroots.com