By ERIN ROLL
The United Way building on South Fullerton Avenue may become the site of Montclair’s new senior center.
United Way officials plan to renovate the building and parking area, with space on the first floor for a community center that is expected to be used primarily by seniors and operated by the township.
The United Way currently has its offices in the building, but it is also home to several Montclair organizations, including Montclair Cares, Laptop Upcycle and Shelterforce. It is also a Third Ward polling place during elections.
The Edgemont Park House, now closed due to the pandemic, has served as the de facto venue for senior activities and events in Montclair since the spring of 2016. However, users have said that the house is too small to adequately meet seniors’ needs, and accessibility has been an issue.
The renovation of the United Way building to include a senior center was officially presented to the Board of Adjustment in February. Senior citizen advocacy groups have called for the township and other involved parties to finalize the plans and start renovations as soon as possible.
During the July 7 Township Council meeting, Ann Lippel, chairwoman of the Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, said the senior center would bring economic benefits to the downtown area and fulfill a promise made to Montclair’s seniors a decade ago. “We urge you to bring those negotiations to a conclusion,” she said. Lippel subsequently declined further comment, saying that information would not be available for a few more weeks.
Carolyn Lack, a member of Aging in Montclair, said during the council meeting, “You have the opportunity to do something no other council has been able to do. We’ve looked at other towns, and we see all these other towns, and they all have senior centers with all these facilities.”
The senior center is expected to be discussed at a meeting of the council’s finance committee, Mayor Sean Spiller said. Katie York, the township’s director of senior services, is expected to give a report on the senior center to the committee on July 30, Spiller said. York did not return calls and emails requesting comment.
“Given the commitment my council colleagues and I have to senior services and specifically to a senior/community center, we are excited to move closer to achieving that goal with a potential partnership on the horizon. While all specifics, including the financing, need to be examined in detail, we will do so expeditiously, to see if this site or another will best serve our township and our seniors,” Spiller said.
United Way’s application to the Board of Adjustment for the renovations included the establishment of a community center on the first floor, reconfiguring the parking area and driveway, and preserving the memorial garden. No additions are planned.
The variance was granted in May, subject to several conditions, including maintaining parking space for at least 12 Montclair Public Library employees. The repaved lot will have a total of 72 parking spaces. In addition, up to 50 daytime parking passes in the Crescent Parking Deck would be made available for staff and tenants at the building.
The 38,010-square-foot structure was built in 1951, according to tax records. A floor plan presented at the Board of Adjustment meeting shows the entire first floor as a community center, with a fitness room, conference room, dining room, kitchen and offices for support staff. The existing auditorium would remain as is, according to that floor plan.
Lawyers and consultants representing United Way at the zoning board hearings noted that the building was close to 70 years old and said that the renovations were needed to better serve its tenants and the community in the 21st century. The consultants said new Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathrooms are needed.
Councilman Bob Russo said that, while he was a supporter of the senior center, he did not have any information on the specifics. “I have always supported the concept of a senior community center, but negotiations on details of where, when and how this concept can be implemented have not been my focus over the last few months,” he said.