SUMMIT, NJ - A number of options for improvements to the Summit Community Center on Morris Avenue were presented to the Common Council on Monday by community programs director Judith Leblein Josephs and David Rosen of The Rosen Group, the architectural firm advising the community programs department on redesign of the facility.
Josephs noted that expanded use of the facility, chiefly by senior citizen and youth groups, plus the fact that the building has not been renovated since 1954, seem to point to a plan that will take the project beyond the scope of the $2.5 million project originally mapped out for the renovation a few years ago.
That original plan called for an 8,000-square-foot renovation of the existing facility and a 3,900-square-foot addition. Josephs said this plan did not address the size or functionality of the gymnasium and would not resolve the safety issues with the existing facility.
The three plans receiving the greatest support, she added, included a $3.7 million plan which would lengthen the gym to middle-school size standards but still would not resolve the safety issues. This option, for an 8,000-square-foot renovation and a 6,800-square-foot renovation, would add a viewing areas and the slightly longer gym. The community programs director said the $1.14 million additional cost with only these additions made this option seem impractical.
Also under consideration are a $5.61 million plan that would allow for an 8,000-square-foot renovation of the building with an 11,600-square-foot addition with a full-sized gymnasium. One advantage of this option, Josephs noted, is that it can be done in one phase, This option, she said, is the one favored by the community programs advisory board. She added it meets the needs of seniors, youth and basketball groups and is cost-efficient.
The third option, priced at $5.97 million, creates both a middle-school and high school-sized gym. It also provides for the spaces needed for youth, seniors and programming, although, obviously, more costly than the second option..
In response to a question from Councilman Patrick Hurley, Josephs said the current community center serves about 900 to 1,200 people per week and it is at capacity.
Hurley also suggested that the community programs department explore use of school-based athletic facilities to accommodate some of its functions. Josephs replied that the department currently is second in line for use of school facilities and it is close to capacity in those facilities.
The community programs director also noted that programming fees in the center will continue to meet the costs of all programs. She expected energy savings from more efficient newer facilities and said the cost of any new furnishings could be covered by fundraising within the community.
Responding to a question from Councilman Robert Rubino, Rosen said solar energy probably could be used in the renovated facility, but that would have a larger initial installation cost to be followed by lower operating costs down the road. A horizontal unit, he said, could be installed underneath the field on the community center site.
Although citing Josephs and her staff for providing a quality program and planning upgrading of the facility, Councilman Thomas Getzendanner noted the city has a considerable amount of debt outstanding and faces the cost of $1.7 million in improvements currently underway in Summit's schools.
Getzendanner said an attempt should be made to meet the costs of the renovations with the $640,000 the city garnered from the recent sale of the former youth center at 2 Walnut St.
However, council general services committee chairman Albert Dill, Jr. said the current building was “a mess,” adding that during Hurricane Sandy and last year's other storms the building was mentioned as a future shelter and weekend housing area for those helping the city to cope with future disasters. The current structure, he said, could not meet those needs.
In addition, with an expanding youth and senior population, he said even a $3.7 million price tag might not meet the increased needs of the center.
Council president Richard Madden said he understood the debt service on $3.7 million was about $300,000.
Madden added that he heard there now was less use of the facility by senior citizens and more by youth and he would like to see demographics which would give a clearer picture of where renovation funds should be spent.
Josephs replied there was more of a change in how seniors now used the facility than a decrease in their use of the center. Currently, she said, seniors don't stay for long periods but rather are in and out all day due to the program schedule. What is needed, she noted, is a senior lounge, where the older generation can socialize before and after yoga and tai-chi classes in the gymnasium, for example.
The need for a senior lounge caused community programs committee member Myles McMahon to burst into a song keyed to the theme from “Cabaret.” in which he pleaded for seniors not to sit alone in there homes but to come to a new senior lounge to socialize with their peers. The song also urged the governing body to take action on the facility while the seniors were still “around to enjoy it.”
Getting back to the financing of the renovations, council finance chairman Dave Bomgaars noted that in its capital plan the council had allocated $3 million this year and $2 million next year for renovations to the community center.
He also said the Walnut Street sale funds and selling of naming rights could bring in more funds for the renovations.
Rosen replied that action was needed on some type of solid plan for the renovations so his firm could draw up schematic drawings on proposals, and Josephs added that firm plans were needed to apply for grants for some of the costs of the project.
Bomgaars also noted that the city is facing the costs of school renovations, but, due to safety concerns in the recreation center it needed to take a solid look at the proposals for that facility.
Mayor Ellen Dickson noted the city, unfortunately, is faced at the same time with replacement or renovation costs for many of its assets, such as the schools, the fire headquarters and the recreation center.
Community programs advisory board member Guy Haselmann said the entire recreation center was unsafe and a city as highly regarded as Summit needed a facility which united its residents of all ages.
He noted the Federal Reserve has projected bond interest rates at near zero and urged the council to act on the renovation project now before the rates take their expected turn toward higher levels.
Madden told Josephs each of the council members will submit their ideas on the renovation proposals to Josephs. He added she probably can expect an answer from the governing body by the second council meeting in December.