SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Community Center renovation project, featuring an additional, high school-regulation-sized gymnasium and expanded facilities for use by senior citizens -- as well as other upgraded and new amenities -- was the focus of a recent open house event held at the Community Center on Morris Avenue.

Proposed improvements will expand the current 8,000 square-foot facility with an 11,600-square-foot addition that will include, in addition to the new gym, an expanded senior lounge, additional modernized restrooms with some showers, enhanced meeting spaces, an area for teenagers, kitchen space, improved parking and accessibility improvements.

In introducing the renovation project, Mayor Nora Radest praised community volunteers Drew Maldonado, Jude Avelino, Regina Feeney and Jamie Colucci who, she said, led the effort for the expanded facility with the mayor.

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Summit Department of Community Programs Director Judith Leblein Josephs noted that a community fundraising effort has led to more than $1.35 million being pledged in private and corporation donations, including a $300,000 commitment from Celgene Corporation -- to be used for the expanded senior center -- and $250,000 from Investors Bank, a portion of which came from a private donation by Kevin Cummings, the bank's president and chief executive officer. The Investors Bank funds are dedicated to the new gymnasium facility.

Josephs noted that the Reeves Foundation and Summit Area Public Foundation have donated $100,000 and $90,000, respectively, to the renovation effort. She added that the fundraisers are aiming for a total of $1.5 million in private donations to the project.

The community programs director said the renovated center -- as has been the goal of her department since it was established as a separate entity within the Hilltop City administration in 2008 -- is intended to unite, in one facility, programming for teenagers and senior citizens that have been scattered at a number of locations throughout the City.

Outlining the history of the project, Josephs noted that nine original plans were presented to the Summit Common Council in 2008 by Summit-based architects Rosen Kelly Conway. The choices were narrowed down to two possible options before the final plan was chosen.

The facility is now to projected to cost up to $6.5 million, a $800,000 increase over the $5.7 million "design phase" budget that was originally and unanimously green-lighted in April of 2014 by The Summit Common Council. A provision of that approval to move forward was that the City's funding portion of the projected be capped at a maximum of $4.5 million.

In light of the revised, higher cost of the project, the governing body on February 14 subsequently approved a $6.5 million bond ordinance to fund the facility's construction.

The 14% budget increase is due to the fact that several necessary costs were not included in the original "design phase" budget / plan, which was used as a mechanism to determine the City's financial commitment and the balance of funding necessary to be raised via private and corporate donations.

The new, additional costs cannot be even partially offset by a budget contingency, as no such contingency was built into the "design phase" budget. It is further understood that the "design phase" budget / plan was not submitted to the City's engineering department for review.

The additional costs result from $500,000 worth of site work that was never included in the original "design phase" plan / budget, which dates back to 2012. Also, $300,000 in soft costs -- such as architecture fees, construction management, outside professional estimator, required testing -- were also not included in the original plans. 

In early 2016, the Summit Common Council was informed that the project was missing cost line items, and subsequently a decision was made to select a new architect for the project, with Union-based Potter Architects replacing Rosen Kelly Conway.

Contacted via e-mail in February by TAPinto Summit, Common Council President Michael McTernan replied via e-mail that, "The budget has increased by $800K since originally proposed in 2014. The original architect provided the Department of Community Programs with plans that did not include $500K for the site work. Once this omission was realized in early 2016, the DCP, under the direction of council, was tasked to review and rework project plans and budget. A determination was made at that time to get a new architect, as a fresh perspective was thought to be necessary. With a new architect, it was determined that the project would cost no more than $6.5MM. Soft costs for site work, an upgraded fire suppression system and increased price of material since 2014 are the primary drivers of the budget increase."

In the same e-mail reply, McTernan added, "While I am not pleased with the budget increase, it’s unclear though what CC (Common Council) would have done had the other costs been included originally. I’d prefer not to lay blame."

While current pledged fundraising totaling $1.35 million has exceeded the $1.2 million goal, the net effect to the public funding mechanism reflects the $800,000 increase, as any fundraising 'surplus' would have mitigated the $4.5 million City expenditure.

At the open house event, McTernan was asked by a resident why the council decided to make fundraising for the project partially City-funded and partially privately-funded, with the Council President replying that the two plans originally presented both offered chances to make the center a “great facility,” but the community decided it wanted the more expensive of the two plans and the extra amenities it would include.

The Council president added that budgetary considerations prevented complete City funding of the project that was chosen, and the Council also decided to involve the residents of Summit in raising some of the money for the facility they wanted to see.

McTernan, who was joined at the event by retired City clerk David Hughes, former Council President Frank Macioce, former Councilman Al Dill, and current councilman Steven Bowman, said at the open house that the renovations to the center, which was built in 1954, “have been kicked down the road year after year and we couldn’t wait any longer to make them.”

Speaking at the open house, Potter said his firm wanted to explore whether there was a viable way to reuse the existing structure by adding onto it. He added they decided the existing center, built with the “good bones” of many buildings designed in the 1950s and 1960s, just needed “some polishing,” including upgrading the electrical system, the boilers and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Among the changes envisioned, he noted, are the expansion of current office space into the new senior center and the second, larger gymnasium that will be up to high school regulation size for both basketball and volleyball.

Additionally, the current auxiliary parking area with 35 spaces, which faces Morris Court, will be redone and a curved driveway will lead from it to a covered drop-off and pickup area in the front of the renovated facility. The lot will have defined spaces there which is hoped will create safer traffic flow entering and exiting the area.

Parking will continue to be available in the facility's existing lot, and traffic will exit that lot onto Morris Avenue.

In response to a resident question, Potter said lighting in the lot will be “low cutoff, shielded light” with the beams pointed toward the light and not spilling out onto nearby homes.

A new office area will be closer to the building’s front entrance, with a receptionist area and the possible addition of card readers for additional security. Enlarged bathrooms will include showers and there will be a family restroom that also will include a shower area, Josephs said.

Potter also said the renovated facility will include a “multi-generational” games room with a large television screens and areas that can be used by both teens and adults.

The architect added the plan is to retain all existing mature trees along Morris Avenue and Morris Court, and Josephs noted that, even though there currently is no “defined landscape plan” as of yet, those involved have consulted City forester John Linson and they want to keep the landscaping “as beautiful as possible.”

A resident who lives near the center said that, since the underground sprinkler system was installed in the area, the trees in the outfield of Long Field, to the rear of the center, have been decimated. Josephs responded that, since the renovations will include examining the sprinkler system, her staff would look at its effect on area trees.

As for the exterior design of the center, the community programs director said they have aimed at keeping it in “the Colonial spirit, with some homage to our City Hall,” A rendering released during the open house event shows a significant change in the facility's elevation and exterior appearance when contrasted with City-released renderings that accompanied the announcement of open house event.

She also said the current bocce ball court would be moved to a new location to the right rear of the existing parking lot.

Residents also were concerned that the renovations focused on teens and senior citizens but did not provide for a playground for younger children. Josephs said an area available on the current site for a possible playground would be too isolated and probably would require erection of restrooms and other facilities in a separate building.

She said her department has been working with the Briant Park Conservancy to locate a playground in the newly-renovated county park.

East Summit resident Colucci, who has been designated the project's supervisor and serves as the DCP's creative director, urged community members to help him persuade the Conservancy to install the playground at Briant Park.

On another topic, Potter said the renovated facility will include a fire suppression sprinkler system and there will be security cameras around the building along with motion detectors in strategic areas and burglar alarms on doors.

Colucci noted the current building is equipped with Wi-Fi, broadband and wireless access and he expects those systems to be upgraded in the renovated facility.

In response to another resident question, Potter said the renovated facility will meet all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards of environmental quality, although the department will not seek formal LEED certification since that process would be expensive for the City.

Josephs added the goal is to create a safe, sustainable facility with recycling containers throughout the building and a change in fuel from the current oil storage tank to gas.

Regarding the project's timeline, Potter said construction would begin this August or September and take about a year.

Josephs added bidding for a construction management firm is expected to begin shortly and, when that firm is selected, her staff would decide if it will remain in the facility during construction and move to a newer area as it is completed on move out of the building altogether. She said the center’s summer camp program would remain in the Community Center this year and then move to the Jefferson School-Summit Family Aquatic Center area next year.

The director added that the public would not be allowed in the Community Center during construction. She also said other community groups, such as Summit Senior Housing, would be asked for their help in temporarily hosting programs during the construction phase.

Josephs added that she was not sure how relocation of voting facilities currently housed in the Community Center would be handled. However, Hughes said geographical and other factors would have to be taken into consideration and voting districts could not be split.

As for future usage of the gymnasium facilities, Josephs said younger children would be able to use the existing smaller gymnasium, which will be upgraded, and the older children and adults will use the new gymnasium.

Potter said the new gymnasium will have LED lighting and there will be considerable natural light via windows into both gymnasium facilities.

Josephs noted that seniors would enter their area of the building through a reception office which would include a health measurement area to be established through the help of the Atlantic Health System. There also will be a large conference room that will have the capacity to be sectioned off for smaller gatherings, while adding that the current kitchen would not be renovated completed, but “gussied up,” and she asked for community volunteers to advise the department on what could be done with the area. There will be coffee and tea available in a section of the new senior lounge.

Josephs also noted that her department would appear at the March 27 meeting of the planning board for a “courtesy review” of the renovation plans. City agencies do not require formal planning board approval of projects.

The director added all those who live within 200 feet of the community center would receive formal notice of the planning board meeting.

Reporting on the Open House event was provided by Bob Faszczewski.