Council Discusses $400,000 Community House Expansion

At the Monday, June 28th, meeting of the Spring Lake Heights Borough Council, the governing body and citizen attendees heard a presentation by local architect Paul Damiano for a $400,000 expansion to the Community House on Ocean Road and 9th Avenue. Damiano, a former member of the Borough’s Planning Board, noted that the original plans for expansion dated to 2004 when the Borough applied to Monmouth County’s Community Block Development Grant (CBDG) program. The proposal at that time, priced at approximately $250,000, was rejected.

Three years ago, Borough administrator Jay Delaney revived the old proposal and resubmitted it to the County. After several funding cycles, the project, now valued at $300,000, was finally awarded approximately $150,000. Earlier this year, the Council approved rehiring Damiano for $12,500 to revise the original plans. The revision includes some renovation to existing space, such as new wood flooring and a reduced stage.

Expansion of the facility includes two meeting rooms so that tables can be left set up at all times. The existing kitchen would be completely overhauled and the stove replaced with a microwave. The project is now valued at $400,000.

The new bathrooms which were redone in 2011 with a grant from the Spring Lake Heights Improvement Foundation would be torn out and replaced with new, expanded bathrooms. Damiano explained this is a requirement to accommodate the expanded number of people the building would hold. Additionally, all ADA-compliant work done in 2011 would also be redone as the back entrance would be relocated.

Seeing that several members of the audience wished to speak, Mayor Tom O’Brien graciously opened a public comment session specifically for this issue, saying that community members should have the ability to provide input on a community facility.

Cathy Hahn, who chairs the Borough’s Beautification Committee, expressed concern that the stove was being removed. She noted that when she hosts the Committee’s annual Tea to raise funds for the building that she needs to keep kettles boiling and food heated.

Councilman Art Herner remarked that no one used the stove anymore, but had their events catered instead. Hahn disagreed with this statement, as did resident John Tangeman who noted that people often cook trays of food and bring them to the facility to reheat them there. Damiano remarked that he would design whatever he was instructed to but had been told to remove the stove.

Hahn noted that many improvements were sorely needed. “The floor has needed replacing for 25 years, the kitchen for at least that,” she remarked. She asked, however, why the Borough felt it necessary to go beyond needed improvements and expand the space. Councilman Herner said it was because, for once, Spring Lake Heights was going to do something right and spend money upfront instead of trying to do something as cheaply as possible. Hahn pointed out that the project grows in price every time it is discussed and asked where all the money was coming from.

Borough Administrator Jay Delaney said that in addition to the $150,000 grant from the CBDB, he had identified approximately $45,000 available in the general fund and another $200,000 in the Borough’s Open Space Fund. Environmental Commission chair Kathleen Crippen noted that the Open Space Fund was specifically a tax to buy and maintain open space included in the Borough’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory (ROSI). Currently, the Community House and adjoining park are not on the Inventory.

She noted, too, that according to the NJDEP’s Green Acres program, which oversees open space, that money could not be spent on building funds unless it was a historic building listed in the ROSI. A search of the NJDEP Historic Preservation Office’s NJ & National Registers of Historic Places showed that The Community House is not currently listed on either Register as a historic property or being located within a historic district. She suggested that the Borough Attorney follow up with the legal department at Green Acres to confirm what the Borough needed to do to legally spend the funds and not run the risk of lawsuits.

Resident Nancy Maclearie Hayduk also questioned the need for such a large expansion and said the Borough needed to be mindful of the residents who live behind the Community House. Using the architect’s model of the project she noted that the building would come out further in the back than it does now, bringing it closer to neighbors. Hayduk suggested that Councilman Herner, who chairs the Borough’s Parks and Recreation Committee, convene a committee of residents to provide input on what was really needed at the facility. Herner demurred, saying committees could go either way and could take up time. Citing Hahn’s years of commitment to the facility and her knowledge of its use, Hayduk urged Herner to rely on Hahn “as a committee of one” and involve her in any ongoing discussions about the expansion.

Mayor O’Brien asked for a motion to close the public comments when everyone who wanted to speak was finished. He thanked Damiano for his time in giving the presentation.

Any resident interested in the proposed design may visit Borough Hall and request to see the site plans. Anyone wishing to provide input should attend the next Council meeting at 8 PM on July 11, and speak during the Voice of the Public.

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