CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell Community Center (CCC) task force met for the third time this past Thursday via a Zoom platform to discuss the topic of Fitness and Camps.
Members of the advisory panel who joined the meeting were Frank Lombardy, who offered expertise in sports and entertainment facilities and budgeting, James DiOrio who addressed sports complex development as it pertains to real estate, Cliff Peter Barany a developer with expertise in facilities management and Bill Maranz the recreation director for North Caldwell and is affiliated with the New Jersey Basketball Academy. Mike Fitzpatrick the borough’s health officer was in attendance to answer questions about guidelines and restrictions.
Before the meeting began, Mayor John Kelley took the opportunity to address rumors and confirmed that there are no negotiations taking place with the goal of selling the building. Kelley stated: “We are all in this together, we are trying to come up with some ideas and find a way to present something at the end of this process that can then be presented to the council to decide where we go from here. But our hope is that we reopen the CCC, there is no question that this is our hope and that is why we brought all of you into this process.”
Fitzpatrick stated that YMCA camps will open next week, and the indoor pools will be open, not for competition, but for lap swimming with staggered lanes and kept at 25% capacity. He stated the reason for no competitions is that multiple teams lends itself to too many people congregating in an area. Task force member Lou Renzetti questioned the access to locker rooms and Fitzpatrick stated that as long as every third locker is utilized, 6-foot distance is kept along with proper sanitizing and mask usage and taking a “practical approach” locker rooms can be accessed.
Task force member Jesus Navarro stated he believes the “CCC can and should open with minimal improvements and can be done in stages.” He continued that it “would be great for the community, including the pool.” Navarro also noted that the gym was “under utilized” and with “minor improvements it can go a long way to turn a profit” for the CCC. He stressed that there needs to be planning, implementation and marketing.
DiOrio stated his assessment of the facility indicates that there is too much space devoted to offices and conference rooms and the space can be better utilized if those areas were consolidated. He noted that teams of various sports are constantly looking for practice space and there were opportunities to bring in revenue however the issue becomes adequately scheduling time for members to utilize the facility in addition to renting out the spaces. As a resident and a member, he noted times he has been in there and “12-14 kids were using the whole gym or the gym was entirely empty” and that this was not ideal for revenue purposes. He also recommended that adding two basketball hoops to the gym would be extremely beneficial.
Barany saw the CCC with great potential and that programs need consistent times and space. He noted that within a 10-15 miles radius there were multiple teams that would be very interested in renting space for their practices. Barany stated that a rental of $120 an hour during season would not be unreasonable and many teams would prefer to book six to twelve months in advance, off season the rental fee can be decreased, however the issue is to find the right balance between renting the facility while providing ample time to the membership for their private usage. He stated that the Metuchen Sports Complex is occupied 96% with teams practicing. Banker commented that there “needs to be a balance from a commercial perspective and the membership’s needs”.
Maranz began by stating that the North Caldwell town pool and day camp are open this summer and that all state health department guidelines are available on the website for the public to review that include pools, camps, and fitness centers. Maranz then questioned what the mission of the CCC was and Kelley confirmed that the purpose was to serve the regional area members, senior citizens and swim teams who utilize the pool. The goal had been for the CCC to be self-sustaining however the center is losing approximately $500,000 annually that the taxpayers of Caldwell are encumbered with although the residents of the borough account for approximately one-third of the membership.
Maranz stated that Caldwell paying West Caldwell $400,000 annually to share the recreation department in essence makes Caldwell “competing against yourself.” Kelley stated that the fee allows for usage of facilities that Caldwell does not have to provide fields for softball and baseball and to maintain the infrastructure. Maranz said North Caldwell can charge $200,000 for the same arrangements. Banker stated that Caldwell only had the Oval for games and that there was not a “critical mass of kids in the borough” to form its own teams. Still Maranz said that $400,000 for baseball was “too much” and that there was “wasted space in the CCC”. He said the biggest profit margins would be renting out room for birthday parties and to bring in clinics and teams in to rent the spaces”.
Task force member Lori Brown presented an analysis she completed as it relates to the CCC summer camp. Noting the fee is much less than premium camps such as Jeff Lake but higher than other recreation camps due to the camp’s offerings the weekly cost was $275 in 2019, while a YMCA camp is $415 weekly. Due to space constraints the camp is maxed out at 130 campers and does offer a lower ratio of camper to counselor than is required. She noted that the budget for the camp has been flat since 2010, with no increases even allowing for inflation. Brown recommended that the addition of an outdoor bubble/tent would help so more activities may be planned and that another consideration can be tennis at Grover Cleveland Park. Mary Campion reported that the camp does turn a profit and that in 2017 the profit margin was $155,000, 2018 - $178,000 and in 2019 the profits totaled $195,000.
Theresa Hunt, CCC task force member began a discussion noting as the school districts may be going on an alternating scheduling for school due to COVID19 restrictions, parents will be looking for childcare which can be a potential revenue source for the CCC at the same time thinking strategically that mini-camps and programs will meet the needs of the community.
Frank Lombardy suggested finding an anchor team who is willing to pay top dollar and take a lot of hours. A suggested balance may be 60/40 with the majority of the time being devoted to members and the remaining 40% of the time the facility is open to be rented to various sports programs. Banker stated, “the biggest decision is how to use the facility and what is the best mix between economic successes and constituent satisfaction.”
Ken Mihalik, a member of the task force questioned if a privatization model would be ideal, whereby the administration did not run the facility but instead a private company would and then pay the borough for the rental. Maranz and Lombardy both readily agreed that if a private company were interested to take over the CCC that would be ideal.
Toward the end of the meeting Brown and Campion questioned why financials have yet to be presented to the task force members. Banker stated the previous administration did not keep accurate records for the facility, however it was his intent to provide members by the next meeting with as much accurate information and financials for the facility as he can.
Campion questioned why the pool cannot be open in the interim while the process continues now that it is allowable by the state health department. Kelley confirmed that the 2020 budget was not inclusive of operating the pool and the intent of the task force from its inception was to come to make recommendations by the Fall to the council. Whatever is ultimately recommended would be implemented by January 1, 2021.
The next task force meeting will be July 23rd and the topic will be facilities and parking.