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Montclair Group Calls for Community Center

The Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee wants to turn the vacant Social Security building, at 369 Bloomfield Ave., into a public space for residents.


Montclair has a lot to offer on its mainline, but a local group thinks it's missing one thing: a community center. 

The Montclair Senior Citizen Advisory Committee wants to create a public space in town, said committee member Ann Lippel, which can be a place for local information, a space for local organizations to meet, and a spot to just hang out. 

“The center will be a focal point for everybody in town,” said Lippel. “It is clear ... that there is a need for this kind of coordinating [and] facilitative presence. It will be a clearing house for a lot of information that is [currently] atomized in small pockets.

Lippel said another driving force for a community center is the idea of allowing older residents to “age in place in Montclair.” 

“It’s a new concept ... to have people stay in their community after they have retired,” said Lippel. “It’s a very attractive idea.” 

Councilor Renee Baskerville Renee said she was on board with the committee’s idea, and believed the building could be an “asset” to the town. 

“I would very much like to be part of your initiative to see how we can make this happen,” said Baskerville at the council conference on Dec. 18.  

“This is a very important thing,” added Deputy Mayor Robert Russo. “I’ve always felt that Montclair has not had the focus on its seniors as it should have, and now that I am one of those, I’m willing to spearhead this as much as I can.” 

A social center in town could help both the community and township’s bottom line, added Lippel. Not only do elderly residents remain in the communities they have invested so much time in, but the township gets that steady, reliable stream of tax revenue. 

A community center would “make it easier for people to hold meetings, and to develop a sense of cohesion and feel like Montclairions,” said Lippel. 

The Plan

The committee’s plan is to purchase the vacant federal Social Security building at 396 Bloomfield Ave. for the community center.  

The township may have its chance in the coming months to purchase the building outright, said Lippel. According to the committee, the Social Security Agency has dropped its claim on the building. 

However, the federal Housing for Urban Development is reportedly interested in placing a residence for the homeless there, according to Lippel.

HUD has until January, Lippel believed, to make a decision on the building. The federal housing agency could also reach out to third parties to construct the shelter, too.

Due to the potential price tag and uncertain timeline, Baskerville suggested looking at the existing town-owned building in Glenfield Park as an alternative. 

“Because we might have the ability to use an existing facility to get things started more quickly, we have to look at that alternative,” said Russo 

In addition, Russo noted Montclair is not in the fiscal position to begin bidding on buildings. 

“We will look at existing [buildings] and then the possibility of the federal government [building],” said Russo. “... Because finances are a very big problem for us right now.” 

Adam December 26, 2012 at 05:33 AM
Has this group thought about using space in either or both libraries for this rather than buying an entire building.
maryann schaeffer December 26, 2012 at 02:01 PM
This is a very important cause for our community and we should not give up on this one. Montclair can prove once again how "progressive" it can be with tapping into this population's offerings: ie. Schools, businesses, arts, etc. Consider a building that has ample parking (yes $$) to achieve more participation. Montclair make up proud!!
Cary Africk December 26, 2012 at 02:41 PM
We seem to be caught up in this we need people whose kids have graduated from school to stay in Montclair because we need their tax money, without their needing expensive services, like schools. People, seniors, leave Montclair not because Montclair doesn't have a Senior Center. They leave because, most likely, they can't afford the taxes. Some decide to leave because they believe that the high taxes aren't "worth it." A senior center is nice. Verona built a beautiful complex that encompasses a senior center, among other buildings. They did this because they planned. Many other communities planned and have multiple purpose complexes, including Livingston. Again, they had a plan.
tryintosurvive December 26, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Sounds good if we don't have to pay for it. Otherwise we should get the town council's plans for revenue working first before spending on anything like this now. Once revenue is coming in we can consider things like this. I also thought that Bob Russo was going to save the town money with "shared services". I wonder how that is going as we have heard nothing about it since the election in May.
Adam December 26, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Parking will continue to be a big challenge in the downtown area with the discussed development. The Social Security property would make an ideal parking lot. It would greatly benefit businesses in that area & certainly get filled when there are shows at the Wellmont. Perhaps there is an opportunity for any of the religious institutions in town rich in space but struggling with membership decline to serve the group looking for a community center space. If the need is to satisfy social purposes, there are also other potential options for locations around town that could fill this need.  Buildings that may house at least one large room sitting empty many days might include the United Way, Salvation Army, Van Vleck, 205 Claremont, the main library, etc.  Is it possible to rotate days of the week where the meet up & activities could be housed? Could high school students provide volunteer help for community service work? I see fundraising efforts in other towns being done to support senior activities. Have fundraising ideas been investigated? There must be ways to achieve what is needed rather than simply buying a building which will then need extensive renovations & full time staff.
Cary Africk December 26, 2012 at 04:20 PM
What came up in the last discussion of whether or not to buy a building for a Senior Center was that it wasn't a matter of the Community not offering a range of activities for Seniors, it was the situation that these activities weren't "all in one place." Thus exercise classes might be in one facility, dance in another, etc. The Senior Center was also seen as a place to build nicer offices for staff. Montclair has become a "ready, fire, aim" community. Rather than "what is the need, how do we currently service it, what additional is necessary, what would it cost," it becomes a "lets do it" mentality.
Martin Golan December 26, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I am one of those who fled Montclair when the kids were no longer in the schools (read my "confessions," which ran in the Montclair Times, at http://martingolan.com/taxaholic.htm) and I have to say, the lack of a senior center had nothing to do with it --though it is one of those amenities -- like a lovely town pool complex or community center -- that other towns seems to have easily provided. Aside from the taxes, there's a factor beyond local control: New Jersey's bizarre patchwork quilt of towns, where the only real differences are the school systems. (Don't start me on the idiocy -- and added cost in taxes -- of duplicating police and fire and trash/recycle pickup etc a thousand times). By living just outside Montclair, we have access to all the things that made the town special in the 20-plus years we lived there; we're even closer to many. So why not move to a neighboring town, when a same-size house (and we wanted to smaller one, too) costs thousands less in property taxes for the same -- in fact, usually better -- services?
Peter Zorich December 27, 2012 at 12:41 PM
When you have $250 million in debt, and servicing that debt consumes 20% percent of your municipal budget, you do not build a luxury item like a "community" center. It would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility.
montclairgurl December 27, 2012 at 01:42 PM
If we want to enable seniors to age in place, we need to make the town more affordable. I know I will be leaving when I retire because the tax bill will eat up too large a portion of my small retirement income. The town should not be looking to purchase anything until we get our financial house in order and manage the tax situation. Stop wasting our money on nice new amenities when there is currently not enough funding to maintain the ones we already have. On another note, a homeless shelter on a main shopping strip?
CMFAS55 December 27, 2012 at 02:39 PM
are our only choices, buy an entire building with money we don't have in order to set up a senior center or put in a homeless shelter on the same site? Since most seniors can't afford the property taxes to live here maybe they can combine the two. I agree with Cary and Martin - people don't leave Montclair because there is nothing for seniors to do necessarily - most seniors are pretty active into their late 70s and we have a museum, theaters nearby, restaurants, a college and a ton of other stuff - they leave because the tax rate is 3.25% and who wants to pay enormous property taxes on top of neverending maintenance and upkeep on 100 year old homes once your kids are grown and have moved out?
Cary Africk December 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
My taxes, as a result of the reassessment this year, went up by $6,000. As did the taxes of many of my friends. The ex-mayor, and many other officials, are telling me it is important for me and others like me to stay in town so they can suck money from us without providing expenses services we might need, like schools. Most of the town budget goes to personnel expenses -- salaries, benefits, and wages. The rest goes for debt and other insurance. Need $20K (out of a combined school/municipality budget of $200MM) for an adult school that might actually deliver REAL value to seniors? Too bad, we can't afford it. Need $40K for an arts council that might actually deliver REAL value to seniors? Too bad, we can't afford that either. Staff to take care of trees? A full time arborist like Millburn? Too bad, we can't afford it. We can't even afford a social services department, or a dedicated individual to research and apply for grants. For years I've asked, and have been asked, "How do other towns do it?" For years I've asked for the analysis of Montclair vs. other towns. Number of employees, money spent in the schools for various purposes, taxes, etc. No one wants to do a comparison. I assume it would look bad.
tryintosurvive December 27, 2012 at 05:48 PM
The town voted in the candidates who said that they would not cut staff or reduce benefits in order to save money. The candiates said thatmoney would be saved through shared services. It sounded like snake oil, but the voters either bought into it or felt that saving money, reducing taxes and offering more services was not important. At this point we should be realistic. We will not save any money on shared services. We will not gain any revenue through the "build up around the train stations plan", at least for a number of years. We will see declining services (hopefully not too much) and increasing taxes (hopefully not too much) over the next 4 years unless we hit the lottery.


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