NEWARK, NJ — A new undertaking by Essex County will replace the aging community center building in the South Ward’s Weequahic Park, officials announced Wednesday. 

With the Feldman “Mootsie” Middleton Jr. Community Center no longer able to accommodate events and activities in the park, the county will erect a larger, modernized building for visitors. The state-of-the-art facility will be open to the public by fall of 2021. 

The Newark-based Comito Associates was awarded a $271,000 professional services contract to design the new community center. Aps Construction from Paterson received a public bid contract for $4.51 million to perform the construction work. 

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The old building was demolished earlier this month. The new building is scheduled to open by the fall of 2021. The initiative is the next step in a series of recent restoration projects in Weequahic Park. 

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said the new building will feature raised ceilings, natural lighting and modern accommodations to better fit the needs of residents and groups that use the park. 

"Essex County Weequahic Park has become a focal point for recreational activities, social gatherings and events. The community center, which was built about 50 years ago, no longer has the capacity to accommodate all the afterschool, senior and enrichment activities that are held there and a larger building is needed," DiVincenzo said in a statement.

Since 2006, Essex County has invested roughly $15 million in rebuilding Weequahic Park and its facilities. Improvements include new, modernized playgrounds, basketball courts, upgrades at The First Tee facilities at Weequahic Golf Course, a modernized baseball field and a half-mile fitness course. In 2009, a $7 million modernization project lead to a major restoration of Weequahic Golf Course. 

"I want to thank the County Executive for the work that has been done to renovate every aspect of Weequahic Park. I can't wait until this community center is opened," South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James said.

The new 7,500-square-foot community building will imitate those built in Essex County Cedar Grove Park and Watsessing Park. Guests will have access to a full-service kitchen, office and meeting space for the Weequahic Park Sports Authority and Weequahic Park Association. The two groups have worked alongside Essex County to help maintain the park and run community programs.

 A 40-foot covered carport will allow residents to access the building, which will also have a 100-foot long outdoor patio overlooking Bill Hicks Baseball Field. 

"This building will become an integral part of the community when it is opened. It is very reflective and captures the essence of preserving the history of Weequahic Park while meeting the current needs of visitors,"  Teresa Ruiz, New Jersey State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff, said.