By Ron Leir
Say sayonara to Township Recreation & Cultural Affairs Director Michael Wieners.
Last Friday, Oct. 11, ended Wieners’ four-year tenure as the overseer of the township’s numerous child-focused play activities, for which the township will now have to seek a new monitor.
As listed on the township web site, those play activities are many and varied. They are: fall bowling, baseball and softball, cheerleading clinic for grades 1-8, junior basketball for grades 3-8, Junior Bucs football cheerleading for girls in grades 3-8, Junior Bucs travel tackle football for boys in grades 5-8, junior wrestling for boys ages 6-14, “kindergym” for boys and girls in K-grade 2, pre-school play, soccer for boys and girls in grades 1-8, touch football, tennis lessons for boys and girls ages 8-16, art workshop for grades 1-4 and Camp Belleville for grades K-6.
Not to mention summer concerts and holiday events for kids and adults alike.
Wieners, 27, started a new job this week as director of alumni relations for his secondary school alma mater, St. Peter’s Preparatory School of Jersey City, where he was a member of the Class of 2004.
After attending the Prep, Wieners headed west to study communications at Loyola University of Chicago and was then admitted to the university’s Graduate School of Business. In Chicago, he worked for the Mayor’s Office of Special Events from 2008 to 2009, returning to his hometown in September 2009 to tackle the rec job.
During his four years of service, Wieners said he’s happy to have brought back intermediate baseball for teens. “And our soccer league has continued to grow,” he added.
“One of the things I’ll miss most about the job is working with the kids in my hometown,” Wieners said. “What I enjoyed, coming back from Chicago, was interacting with the coaches and staff I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Growing up here, I had participated in the Belleville recreation program, playing in a number of sports, so it was good to reconnect. But seeing the kids having a good time was probably my favorite thing.”
Another happy time was preparing for and overseeing the township’s annual Fourth of July fireworks event, he said. “We always get a great crowd that comes out for the fireworks outside Belleville High School.”
“I want to thank the mayor and [Township] Council for their support and for their trust in having given me this wonderful opportunity,” Wieners said.
Township Manager Kevin Esposito characterized Wieners’ departure as “bittersweet for us. He has served the township well and we wish him well in his new venture.”
Esposito said the township “will post” for a replacement and, once it has secured a list of applicants, “we will begin the interview process and, hopefully, we will find someone to fill the vacancy.” It’s the township’s intent to keep that slot as a full-time position, he said. Wieners was collecting $62,424 a year in the job, according to township records.
Until someone new is found, Esposito said he plans to “reallocate some of the work staff” to continue to staff the Rec Building at 407 Joralemon St. with at least three employees to help with clerical and scheduling work.
One priority matter that Wiener’s replacement will have to deal with is the still unscheduled opening of the newly rebuilt Friendly House on Frederick St. in the township’s Silver Lake section.
In 2012, three years after the original century-old recreation facility (which had an indoor pool and basketball court) was torn down for safety and health reasons – the building had numerous code violations and mold and cost too much to fix – the township used a $589,000 Community Development Block Grant to construct a smaller version with no pool.
But there still remains unfinished business: a parking lot and outdoor lighting have yet to be provided and furnishings for the building haven’t yet been ordered or purchased. Esposito said it could take up to $75,000 to get that work done. “We’ll have to look at the budget to see whether there’s money available,” he said.
Councilman Michael Nicosia, a private contractor, said he’s asked the township to investigate the possibility of having township workers install a seepage pit for the purpose of collecting stormwater runoff as a drainage system under the future parking lot and “sub-contract out the curbing” around the lot.
“That way,” he said, “we could cut down the cost substantially.”
And, although there has been discussion about day care and/or pre-school activities, the township still hasn’t determined the official purpose of the facility or allocated funds for staffing. “I need the township Recreation Committee, in consultation with the mayor and council, to tell me what the building is being used for before I go out and order supplies,” Esposito said.
Nicosia said there has been talk about setting up a morning and afternoon pre-school recreation program, which could include “some teaching” that, he added, parents “will pay for.” But none of that has been set in stone.
“Certainly there’s concern here,” Esposito said. “No one intended to have a new building put up and not have it utilized.”