CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell Community Center Task Force met last Thursday via a Zoom meeting to present the individual sub-committee reports. The task force began its work 12 weeks ago and has been meeting along with advisory board members throughout the summer and fall.
Reports on aquatics, facilities, fitness and programming, marketing and fundraising all were presented.
The following is a summary of recommendations and findings per category.
Aquatics Sub-Committee Report
Upon inspection of the condition of the pool by committee members, professionals in the industry and Mario Bifalco, director of the Department of Public Works, the pool was determined to be good shape with only minor repairs needed. Regrouting some areas of the tile floor surrounding the pool, sealing a small leak near an underwater light and a recommendation for better decking materials was suggested, but not required.
The report indicated that “per swim guidelines our pool would be able to be used and heed COVID criteria.” The report stated: “Our main objective is to convince the council that not only is the pool a tremendous asset that is needed (and can be used despite COVID restrictions), the pool generates much needed revenue.”
If the pool were to reopen while COVID is still an issue, the locker rooms would not be available for usage and may only be accessed as an entrance or exit, if needed. Mayor John Kelley confirmed that there has been preliminary discussions with four swim teams and one private club to open the pool solely for their usage. The borough would need the clubs/teams to be able to cover the costs of opening the pool and the administration is awaiting their responses from the proposal put forth.
Facilities Sub-Committee Report
The committee was tasked with assessing the existing conditions of the building and parking garage and to recommend both short and long-term maintenance repairs. The committee determined that it was paramount to view both structures separately in the analysis as each had their individual issues and considerations. It was determined that the building’s needs should be addressed on a shorter-term assessment in order to facilitate an opportunity to allow the building to become functional and profitable. The parking deck was viewed to be financially independent of the community center as its purpose expanded beyond the sole usage of the community center’s membership.
Immediate action items for the building related to COVID-19 included providing for an ongoing sanitization program, reducing the amount of equipment at the fitness center, installing proper signage, and providing hand-sanitizing stations.
Short-term maintenance items including replacement of HVAC systems, and replacement of a Dectron dehumidification system. Capital projects for the next three to five years included upgrading the exterior cladding to eliminate water infiltration, renovation of locker rooms and replacement of roof (excluding the gym).
The total projections for all capital projects was approximately $2.5 million. Additionally, to reconfigure space in the lower level the renovation was estimated to be approximately $250,000. The cost for any pool deck repairs was not included in this initial estimate. It was noted the cost for removing non-loadbearing walls on the main floor of the center in order to reconfigure existing spaces was estimated to be an additional $250,000. An additional air infiltration system was discussed but projected costs were not available and this time and will be provided to the committee.
The parking deck’s recommendations included different long-terms options. All of the options require a demolition of the existing structure, as it was determined to repair the existing facility “may quickly approach the cost of a new replacement deck.” A recommendation was made to consider paid parking upon completion in order to held fund construction costs. Options included:
surface parking only with the installation of an elevator to the main level of the community center – 100 cars – estimated cost: $1,300,000
replicate existing structure – 200 cars – estimated cost: $6,300,000
Installation of a multi-story garage – 600 cars – estimated cost $18,000,00
Installation of a multi-use facility including retail & parking - $ - TBD – public private partnership
Fitness & Programming Committee Report
The summary stated: “The Task Force Fitness and Camps Subcommittee was tasked with assessing the fitness model and the center’s layout for fitness and programming, which included camps and childcare so as to make recommendations for COVID and non-COVID options. As part of our analysis, we also investigated ways in which the building could provide additional space to enhance programming while at the same time facilitating social distancing.”
The report continued: “First and foremost, because of COVID, limitations on volume and the need for more space to assist with social-distancing is paramount. Regardless of that, freedom of movement is basically the current trend in fitness anyway. The idea that you need equipment that specifically works every single muscle in your body is dead. With proper teaching and training, less is more. Fitness is now movement based, rather than a static approach.”
The report recommended removing non-loadbearing walls, installing more basketball hoops, reconfiguring the doorway in the gym, offering new opportunities for newer sports such as Futsal (indoor soccer), and pickleball that would attract new members.
Discussion of opening up the facility during off-peak hours to mini-camps for preschoolers was viewed as an opportunity to bring in revenue and make the center more relevant to a population currently looking for larger spaces in order to expand their businesses with spacing issues as presented by COVID. Private operators of franchised programs require more space now due to social distancing measures.
Recommendations were made to continue with the summer camp. According to the report: “Camp Caldwell was an affordable, successful and profitable offering from the Community Center.” Recommendations were made to increase the camp’s budget of $18,500 as it has remained stagnant for over 10 years. The camp profit was between $155,00 to $195,00 for the last three years. It was recommended to put more money back into the program to expand the opportunities, while still being a very affordable option for residents that also employs residents as counselors.
A before-and-after school program was suggested, in partnership with the school district to provide an option for working parents other than the YMCA.
Marketing and Fundraising Committee Report
It was determined that the lack of marketing of the Community Center has been one of the overriding factors for the flat membership rates. Although when the facility opened 20 years ago, marketing matched the times, in the last ten years aggressive strategies have been void.
Recommendations included a dedicated website, increased social media presence, interactions with business owners, Chambers of Commerce and the hiring of an employee who is solely charged with expanding the marketing of the facility to individuals, teams, and sports companies while balancing the needs of the individual membership usage. The creation of an advisory board to oversee a long-term strategic plan made up of members of the community for continuity and not subject to tenure of the borough council members was recommended as well.
It was determined that the possibility of creating a not-for-profit may not be the best route to fund the facility, however a suggestion was offered to create a foundation such as “Friends of the Community Center” where the avenue for grants and local fundraisers would be able to assist in the financing of the facility.
The Finance Committee report will be presented at the next meeting. Currently a survey was mailed out to all homeowners in Caldwell and members from other municipalities. Responses will be collected until October 24th or 25th and then analyzed and discussed at the next meeting.
Council President Christine Schmidt during an interview with TAP stated: “The members of the task force and advisory board members have far exceeded my expectations. They have been diligent, passionate, and creative. There have been some rough patches, but they’ve all earned my respect and gratitude.”
Mayor John Kelley stated: “This committee has really been a wonderful thing for the elected officials. You have brought such great ideas and your intellect brings such fresh energy. The hiring of someone for this purpose of marketing and building out while having a steering committee long term, that can help guide them to grow this and become very successful. Tapping into community knowledge is essential.”