Essex County officials expect to soon break ground on a 10,000-square-foot community center to replace the current Wally Choice Community Center at Glenfield Park.  

On May 10, the Essex County Board of Commissioners voted to accept a $10.6 million bid by Grove Contracting. The company has 360 days from the award of the bid to complete the project, which also includes refurbishing a football field at the park.

The building will be 10,000 square feet, about twice the size of the current Wally Choice center, and will expand parking for 40 more cars. Field upgrades will allow for soccer, football and lacrosse usage.  

The county received five bids, with APS Contracting also coming in at $10.6 million and Berto Construction coming in at the highest, at just under $14 million. According to the county’s memo on the bid acceptance, the decision was made to break the tie bid with a coin toss.

Grove Contracting has completed two other projects for the county — the community center in Cedar Grove and the interior refurbishment of the Essex County Police Academy, Grove Contracting owner Michael Ciccarelli said. 

“We are excited to get started,” Ciccarelli told the Essex County Board of Commissioners on May 10.

The contractors will begin by razing the current building and clearing the site, and plan to have the building up before winter, when they will begin interior work. In February 2023, they will begin field renovations. Both the field and the center are expected to be completed in May 2023. 

American Rescue Plan funds will cover $3.87 million of the project. The state Department of Community Affairs is providing a $5 million grant to help fund the project, Essex County spokesperson Anthony Puglisi said.

The new facility will also be called the Wally Choice Community Center, named after Wally Choice, a veteran, an NBA basketball player and Harlem Globetrotter, and the founder of Montclair Grassroots, a summer camp for youths. In 2008, Essex County named the Glenfield Park House the Wally Choice Community Center in his honor. Choice died in 2018 at the age of 85.

Comito Associates from Newark came up with the conceptual drawings. 

The new center will have a large activity room, a computer room, office space, a kitchen and a room to be used as a substation for the Montclair Police Department, Puglisi said. A patio for outdoor seating will be located in back of the building. Officials hope to expand senior county programming as well.

Groups that currently use the Wally Choice Center include the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp.’s after-school program for students and a group of about 50 seniors who meet regularly there for lunch, socialization and field trips. 

The Rev. Craig Dunn, head of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corporation, said that the youth summer program could be held at Glenfield School in the Catchings Owens Community Suite or the Neighborhood Development Corp.’s offices, and plans for this year’s program will be “bigger and better than ever,” including mentorships, courses in leadership skills, wellness sessions and new sports such as tennis and soccer.

Commissioner Brendan Gill, a Montclair resident, said last year when the plans were announced that the county would provide more recreational programs and lunches, adding that senior use is a priority.

Since 2016, the Edgemont Park House has served as the informal venue for senior activities in Montclair. But seniors have said the house is too small to adequately meet a robust schedule of senior programming, and accessibility and parking have been issues. 

The field will be updated with a synthetic grass surface and sports lighting. The building will be designed similarly to recent community center projects completed in Essex County’s Cedar Grove Park, Watsessing Park and Weequahic Park.

In August of last year, the Montclair Township Council approved a resolution in favor of the center.

Gill, who is a Montclair resident who lives near Glenfield Park, told Montclair Local he looks forward to the official groundbreaking ceremony and the official opening of the new Wally Choice Community Center in 2023. 

“The Wally Choice Community Center is part of the fabric of the Montclair community, as is all of Glenfield Park. The building and the surrounding grounds are due for an upgrade and, as a County Commissioner and lifelong resident of Montclair, I was happy to play a part in contributing to the process,” he said.