CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell Community Center’s (CCC) Task Force held their first meeting via a Zoom platform this past Thursday. 

The mission statement of the Task Force read by Business Administrator Thomas Banker who moderated the meeting is:  “The Task Force has been formed for the purpose of conducting a thorough and objective review of the operations and finances of the Caldwell Community Center and to develop findings and recommendations.  The result of that review is to be presented to the Mayor and council of the Borough of Caldwell and to assist that body in its determination as to the actions to be taken regarding the Caldwell Community Center that will be in the best interests of the citizens of Caldwell.”

The Task Force will meet twice a month, for a limit of two hours per meeting.  Discussions will be limited to the members however the public is encouraged to send questions in advance of the scheduled meetings so that responses may be provided. 

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The meetings will be focus separately on the following topics:  Historical Perspective, Aquatics, Fitness & Camps, Physical Facility including the parking deck, Finances and Marketing, Grants & Fundraising. The final meeting will be a presentation to the borough council that will include recommendations and findings. 

The plan is for the report to be presented by early Fall and the recommendations to be implemented by January 2021.  The Task Force will also work in sub-committees in order to prepare for each of the topics.  Councilman Henderson Cole will poll the members to confirm their areas of interests and expertise to form the subcommittees.  A borough employee will assist in the process and provide relevant data as required.

Council President Schmidt confirmed that the council received approximately 25 requests to join the Task Force and that was then narrowed down to a committee of nine Caldwell residents who equally represent current, former and non-members of the CCC.  Schmidt stated approximately 150 additional emails were sent to offer assistance in various capacities.   In addition to the Task Force a separate Advisory Board will be created that will consist of residents and non-residents who offer expertise in specific areas that will impact on recommendations as the process moves forward.

The members of the Task Force are:  Mary Campion, Lori Brown, Al Porcello, Chris D'Ambola, Dave Pepe, Jesus Navarro, Lou Renzetti, Ken Mihalik and Theresa Hunt.  The members will work with Councilman Henderson Cole, Council President Christine Schmidt, Mayor John Kelley, and Banker.  As the meeting began each member introduced themselves and explained why they chose to volunteer.

Since the first topic was a historical prospective, former Caldwell councilman and Mayor Paul Jemas was the presenter.  Jemas served on the council from 1986-1995 and was mayor of the borough from 1995 serving for three terms until 2006.  In 1998 as suggested by Jemas plans to build a community center began to form as the borough looked for a revenue source.  The bipartisan elected body voted to unanimously move forward with their due diligence to formulate plans the project.  A budget of $6,000,000 was decided that would apportion $1,400,000 for the building and $3,750,000 for the parking deck.  The parking deck was designed to also serve the other businesses along Bloomfield Avenue and to create permit parking.

Jemas noted the project took a total of 18 months from the planning stages to the opening of the center.  The goal was for the facility to be a regional facility that would not add and additional tax burden to the residents of the borough.  The bond payments for the first five years were interest only.  The timing of the first five years was to coincide with the final payments of a previous capital debt from a sewer project that was to be retired so the taxpayers would not see an additional levy once the other payments expired.

Initially there were discussions with the Montclair YMCA to operate the CCC.  The YMCA’s annual fee payable to the borough was to be approximately $125,000-$135,000 plus the borough would receive an additional percentage of their intake.  Ultimately the YMCA chose to enlarge their own facility in Montclair and withdrew itself from consideration.  It was at this time that the borough took the undertaking of running the facility itself.

According to Jemas, as the borough sought to increase revenue the plan was to offer a low membership fee  (Caldwell residents received a lower membership fee) and to charge extra for additional classes such as Pilates and Spin classes and to bring in revenue from renting out the pool to area swim teams.  Considerations were to include a childcare drop off for members and the possibility of a second pool that would have been accessible from the exterior.  Currently membership confirms that 30% are residents of Caldwell and 70% do not live in the borough, so the goal that the facility be regional was realized.

Funding for the project was generated by support locally and through governmental sources.  Jemas noted former Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole was able to provide $350,000 in grants for two years, Senator Richard Codey provided funds for the installation of an elevator and the county executive and board of chosen freeholders provided additional funding.  Locally the Kiwanis Club and the Rotary Club helped to support the project.

Jemas stated that the first contractor who was awarded the project failed one-third the way into construction and the bonding company was to then secure another contractor and supervise the project.  However, the borough did not want to relinquish control of the project and the bonding company agreed to have the borough supervise the project. 

Cole questioned why the project initially went to the lowest bidder and Jemas confirmed that is a requirement of the Open Public Bidding process that binds governmental entities.  Jemas also stated the reason for the decay of the parking deck was due to the lack of maintenance and upkeep through the years.

Task Force members had the opportunity to ask Jemas questions as to why some decisions were made and what initiatives were taken such as marketing for memberships at the time, and what challenges were seen in the first couple of years. Jemas offered his assistance in the future if additional questions arose during the process.

The next Task Force meeting will be conducted on June 25 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.