Nominal recreation fees approved for Belleville kids & School 1 redevelopment plan is adopted

The site of former School No. 1. Apple Maps

It’s official now — Belleville kids who participate in recreation programs will have to pay for the privilege.

After much discussion on the issue, Mayor Michael A. Melham and the Belleville Township Council voted March 14 to set a fee schedule for various year-long sports and art activities offered to locals by the township.

Those fees range from a low of $25 to a high of $100 per child — still, as pointed out by township officials, far below the prices charged by most other New Jersey municipalities.

For summer programs, Township Manager Anthony Iacono said the township hopes to partner with the Belleville Board of Education, in a shared-services agreement, to allow youths the use of the board’s newly completed indoor training facility during Camp Belleville.

Deputy Mayor Thomas Graziano, a longtime Belleville Recreation coach, said “the number one complaint” he gets from parents about the 6-week-long summer camp program is that if it rains or it’s too hot, “the kids have got to go home” because there’s no place for them to shelter.

“You can’t put 200 kids in our Rec House (on Joralemon Street),” he said.

But the school board’s indoor training facility on Cortlandt Street would not only offer relief from extreme weather but also, potentially, allow kids access to multiple physical and passive activities that aren’t available from the township, Iacono noted.

“We definitely have a commitment to work together,” Iacono said, when asked about the probability of putting together an agreement for this summer.  And, Iacono said, such an arrangement could open the door for hiring up to 40 high school students as camp aides, with teacher supervision.

“I’m confident that this year, we’ll have a new and improved summer camp,” the manager said.

Melham has advocated for a recreation-fee structure to improve the quality of recreation programs and the level of competitive skills among the participants.

“I’ve always had loftier aspirations” for those programs, he said, and fees – as long as they’re not “money grabs”—will help accomplish that goal, he said.

“In the past, this township has put ‘free’ over ‘quality,’” the mayor noted.  But now, he said, “I’d rather have quality over free.”

But longtime resident and former township official Vincent Frantantoni argued that the township currently pays about $700,000 for recreation (personnel and maintenance).

Melham responded that the fees will serve as a “reinvestment back into our programs.”

The mayor encouraged Iacono to work with the school board to include sports like basketball and wrestling as part of the proposed shared-services pact with the school board.

Here’s a breakdown of the new fees adopted by the governing body:

For the summer season, Camp Belleville’s entry fee will be $50 per child per week and wrestling clinic is $50; for the fall season, rec soccer (grades 1 through 8) is $25 per child; tackle football for grades 3 to 8 is $100 per child; cheerleading for grades 3 to 8 is $50 per child; and flag football for grades 1 and 2 is $30 per child; for the winter season, Jr. Bucs wrestling is $50 per entry; travel basketball for boys and girls, grades 6 and 8, is $50 per entry; girls rec basketball for grades 2 to 8, is $25 per entry; K1 hoops for kindergarten and first-grade is $25 per child; football conditioning clinics for grades 3 to 8 is $50 per entry; for the spring season, boys rec basketball for grades 2 to 8 is $25 per entry; girls rec softball is $25 per entry; girls travel softball (U12 and U14) is $50 per entry; boys travel baseball (U12 and U14) is $50 per entry; girls and boys rec softball for grades 1 to 8 is $25 per entry; tee-ball baseball for kindergarten is $25 per child; and for seasonal play, travel soccer is $50 per entry; rec soccer for kindergarten is $40 per child; and art workshop for grades 1 to 8 is $50 per entry.

For any family that enrolls more than one child in the same program the same year, the fee for each additional child will be 50% of the normal fee charged.

In other business, the mayor and council adopted the redevelopment plan for the former School 1 property at 81 Stephens St., which calls for a new QuickChek convenience store/gas station on one portion of the site and 40 new townhouse units on the other.

Residents Filomena Frantantoni and Michael Sheldon worried about potential traffic hazards from vehicles entering and exiting the site onto a heavily-traveled Rutgers Street.

Also, the governing body voted to declare the area encompassing 272 Washington Ave., 274-278 Washington Ave. and 163 Valley St. a “non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment” which takes in the 130-year Cozzarelli Funeral Home at 276 Washington Ave., containing what the township  calls an “obsolete layout and outdated antiquated utility systems…inconsistent with today’s design standards and codes, and too costly to renovate….”

The governing body also voted to confer the same designation for 254-256 Washington Ave. and 258-260 Washington Ave., listed as “the old Belleville Hall/Elks.”  One portion of the property area contains “a small 75-year-old (vacant) single story clubhouse” in need of “costly renovations” and “unlikely to attract tenants” while the other portion contains an 85-year-old commercial building in “substandard, unsafe and dilapidated condition” in danger of imminent collapse.

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Ron Leir | For The Observer

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc.

He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter.

He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based WHATCo. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, New York