‘Airing’ concerns over Friendly House

Photo by Ron Leir/ Site of future Friendly House as seen from Florence Ave.


By Ron Leir


The situation is anything but “friendly” around the proposed reconstruction of the township’s former Friendly House recreation facility.

Recently, the Belleville Township Council awarded a contract for $585,000 to Stonebridge, Inc., of South Plainfield, to put up a prefabricated “multi-purpose” building on the site between Frederick Street and Florence Avenue off Franklin Street where the old building stood until it fell into disrepair and was taken down more than four years ago.

But after discussion at the council session on Aug. 14, the governing body – with prodding by Councilman-at-large Michael Nicosia – agreed to issue a stop work order on the job until certain issues can be settled.

According to Nicosia, the bid specifications for the job didn’t include provision for either air-conditioning or site work – meaning, primarily, a parking lot.

Although, as noted by Township Administrator Kevin Esposito, the current design calls for a “natural exchange of air” with the opening of a garagelike bay door that would also provide easy access for loading and unloading tables, chairs and supplies.

But the windows reflected in the plans would be installed “high” up in the building and couldn’t be opened, according to Nicosia.

Not having A/C in the building “can be a very costly thing to fix,” said Nicosia, a private home builder. And, since the township is planning to adapt the new facility, at least in part, as a child care center, “without A/C, the Board of Health probably wouldn’t allow kids inside during the summer,” he said.

Putting in an A/C system could add “as much as $100,000” to the overall cost of the building, Nicosia said.

Additionally, a parking lot for up to 20 vehicles – assuming the small lot on Frederick Street could accommodate that volume – could mean an additional $50,000 to $100,000, Nicosia estimated.

But the township is limited in what it can spend on the project, Nicosia said, given that it was figuring on applying grant money from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Open Space Trust Fund to the Friendly House job.

In hopes of setting the project, at least partly, on the right course, Nicosia said that he and Councilman Vincent Cozzarelli, a private contractor, are hoping to map out a strategy for an alternative type of ventilation system that could be a less costly fix.

What, if anything, he proposed to do about the missing parking, Nicosia didn’t say.

Last fall, the township administration proposed – and the Township Council adopted – a $3.45 million bond ordinance that would have authorized borrowing about $600,000 for the Friendly House re-build. However, in November, 2011 a petition drive led by Second Ward Councilman Steven Rovell and Nicosia opposing the bonding plan persuaded the administration to back off and the council, ultimately, rescinded the ordinance.

Esposito said last week that discussions on the Friendly House contract quandary were continuing and that the job would be held up until the A/C and parking issues, along with other “concerns” that Esposito didn’t specify are dealt with.

“I believe there’s a good chance for an air-conditioning system,” he said, without elaborating further.

As for the lack of a parking lot, Esposito said: “We were limited by the funds available. We were dealing with a barebones budget.”

Meanwhile, in an unrelated matter, Nicosia said he’s also bothered by what he considers to be a security gap at the municipal Public Works garage that, he says, is costing taxpayers.

On a recent Monday morning visit to the site, Nicosia said he discovered a load of construction debris dumped in front of the garage but, because of the way on-site operating surveillance camera equipment is deployed, it wasn’t possible to capture the act on tape.

“Instead of buying additional cameras,” Nicosia said, “I’d rather see us taking the cameras out of our football field and put them at the DPW and then buy new cameras for the stadium.”

According to Nicosia, Priority should go to the DPW site, because every time a township dump truck hauls away illegally dumped trash, that’s an expense to the taxpayer that can’t be recouped unless the offender is “caught” by a surveillance video and then taken to court and fined.

Nicosia said the township should ask its newly hired grants consultant, Bruno Associates, to see what type of grant money may be available – possibly through the U.S. Homeland Security program – that could be tapped to pay for the cameras.

In an infrastructure development, the Township Council voted Aug. 14 to approve a contract award of $75,000 to Montana Contruction, Inc., of Lodi, which was retained on an emergency basis to repair a road collapse that triggered a major break to a sanitary sewer line under Wilber Streey on July 26.

“It was greater than 20 feet in depth and (our Public Works Department) didn’t have the shoring for that depth,” Esposito said.

As the repairs were being done, however, a storm hit, causing a water main break and, the next day, work was begun to replace the ruptured section with PVC pipe, Esposito said.

The township, which handled the repaving of the street, renegotiated the Montana contract “so there was no additional cost to the taxpayer,” he said.

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