Sunday, July 17, 2005

CITY COUNCIL: Bond ordinance, senior center funding to be in Monday's vote

Funding for construction of the new senior center will be voted on at Monday’s (July 18, 2005) City Council meeting. That vote will be part of the proposed $16.5 million bond ordinance that includes $4.3 million to build a new senior center.

Officials held a ceremonial ground-breaking for the center on a vacant East Front Street lot in May at which former basketball player Jayson Williams attended. Although Mayor Albert T. McWilliams lauded Williams for launching the effort to get a new center built through the Jayson Williams Foundation, that organization has since bowed out of the project.

Back in December 2003, the City of Plainfield and the former New Jersey Nets player signed a “memorandum of understanding” for the development of a senior center and performing arts complex. The city was to acquire properties on East Front and adjacent lots on East Second Street and would retain rights to the land and would lease it to the foundation for $1 a year. After 12 years, the land and buildings would have reverted solely to the city.

Jayson Williams was empowered to choose a contractor and get financing, but the project stalled. Now rather than start from scratch, West said, the city will use engineering firms hired by Williams to proceed with the project. Subsequently, two of those firms have turned to the city sending invoices for work already done, he said.

At last Monday’s (July 11, 2005) council agenda setting meeting, Administration & Finance Director Ron West said the city is now working with the Foundation to arrange a transfer of rights to the project. When asked about a timeline West said the city could begin construction on the center by late September or early October.

Seniors have consistently demanded their own brand-new center to replace rented quarters at 305 East Front Street. The annual lease is more than $90,000. They previously rejected the offer of space in the basement of the renovated Tepper's building. They have also turned aside suggestions that the Plainfield Armory at East Seventh Street and Leland Ave and could be converted for their use. The armory is on the market for $1 million but would need extensive rehabilitation.

The bond ordinance will be up for a council vote on first reading at the July 18 regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Other major items in the ordinance are $8 million for roadway construction and $1.2 million for "technology infrastructure."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: City council, senior center


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