Summit Council Approves $15,000 Additional to Study Possible Gymnasium Expansion or Replacement at Community Center

Summit Community Programs Director Judith Leblein Josephs outlines a proposal for a feasibility study of gymnasium improvements at the Summit Community Center. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—A total of $50,000 now will be spent to study how the Summit Community Center on Morris Avenue will be reconfigured to meet the future needs of the city’s population—especially its youth and senior citizens.

The Common Council on Tuesday approved the addition of $15,000 to the original $35,000 allocated to the community center renovation study, and the chief focus of the additional money will be whether it is feasible to expand or replace the current gymnasium at the center.

During an overview of her department’s responsibilities, Community Programs Director Judith Leblein Josephs, said that during community input meetings about the community center proposals the overwhelming question asked was, since you are studying the renovation of the center, why aren’t you looking at doing something about the gymnasium?

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Josephs noted the additional funds only would be used to determine if it is architecturally feasible to expand or replace the current gymnasium structure. If it is not feasible, to project would revert to planning additional meeting and other facilities to serve the youth and senior citizen activities with the gymnasium remaining in its current configuration.

However, she added, as the gymnasium currently exists sporting events cannot be conducted beyond the fifth grade level, there is very little room for spectators and teams that will be involved in a second game cannot get ready for the game while the teams from the first game still are on the floor.

Architect David Rosen said the current facility just barely meets measurement requirements for elementary school play and does not meet requirements for either junior high school or high school events.

Rosen added his firm has prepared some drawings showing the gymnasium length expanded by 18 feet and its sides expanded to accommodate more spectators.

He said the current space is so small it is often difficult for athletes to run along the length of the gymnasium and then try to stop.

The architect said the main focus of an expanded study would be to determine if the site of the center, with its current dropoff at the rear of the property near the Cendant property, can accommodate an expanded gymnasium or requires construction of a new facility.

“We believe we cannot be fully responsive to the renovation project without studying the feasibility of expanding the gymnasium,” Josephs said.

She added, should the study say expansion or replacement of the gymnasium is feasible some of the funds could possibly be provided through offering naming rights or tapping into other private resources in the community.

Councilman Tom Getzendanner, while supporting the general concept of improving the community center, said it would be premature to put more money into the project before the city sells its property at 2 Walnut Street that currently is being used for a youth center.

He also said the community has many other projects, such as infrastructure improvements, that should rank higher in priority than recreation projects.

Councilman Robert Rubino also was skeptical about whether the extra $15,000 would “buy” the city much more than the original study.

Council President Richard Madden, however, pointed out the resolution adopted by the council on Tuesday only committed $15,000 for a feasibility study on the gymnasium and he said he was impressed by Josephs’ assertion that funds needed for any expansion or replacement could be raised by naming rights and other private resources.

He added that he would ask Union County Freeholder Director Alexander Mirabella to tour the Summit facility in the hopes the county can help fund any gymnasium improvements.

Josephs, in response to Councilman Patrick Hurley, said the council would be given several options about any proposed gymnasium expansion or replacement as well as other proposals for the center before final approval of the project.

Resident Grace Foley noted that the city had promised senior citizens improved facilities since 1961 and those promises no longer could be delayed, although she realized the children also needed a well-functioning gymnasium.

Foley added the money for recreation center improvements had been available since 2005 and was still available and any renovations should not be contingent on the sale of 2 Walnut Street.

Guy Haselmann, who chairs the Community Programs Advisory Board, added with the overwhelming community feedback pointing in one direction he could not see how the city would not study the gymnasium expansion.

On another issue related to capital projects in the city, Business Administrator Chris Cotter announced the new Parking Advisory Committee was working on “improving the parking experience” in Summit’s central business district and was expected to present a proposal at the April 17 council meeting on improvements to the park and shop lots and fees for shopper parking.

Concerning another new committee, Mayor Ellen Dickson nominated Lori Jean Murphy to the city’s technology committee and the council approved the nomination.

The committee is looking into ways to expand use of technology in the city’s government and possibly expanding Wi-Fi availability throughout the central business district.

On another matter, Councilman Gregory Drummond announced a cellphone tower has been proposed for the Constantine Pumping Station property and a meeting on the proposal will be held in the Whitman Room of City Hall next Thursday.

Getzendanner said with federal regulations prohibiting interruptions of cellphone signals in certain areas and public safety agencies calling for expansion of cellphone capabilities to prevent interruption of emergency transmissions location of new cellphone towers probably was inevitable.

He noted it would probably be better if such facilities were located on city rather than private property.

In another action, the council approved a $30,000 contract with Animal Control Solutions, LLC of Flemington to provide animal control services to the city from April 1 until December 31 of this year.

Dickson also accepted a $5,000 check from the Summit Area Development Corporation for replacement of trees on the Village Green lost during this fall’s storms.

In addition, the mayor announced Jersey Central Power & Light Co. had pledged to spend $1 million trimming trees and repairing utility facilities in the Summit area that had been damaged in the storms.

Cotter also announced an athletic event to benefit those with special needs will be held in association with Trycan on Tuesday at the Lawton C. Johnson Middle School.

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