By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The township is no longer considering the United Way building on South Fullerton Avenue as a venue for a new senior center, and senior-citizen advocates are angered by the announcement made last week.

In an announcement Wednesday, Aug. 5,  township officials said their decision was based on the “financials proposed by the United Way representative far [exceeding] comparable market norms for municipal facilities and what the township could afford – even prior to the pandemic.”

Council members remain committed to a senior community center and have directed its Finance Committee members to continue the search for “an appropriate and affordable space,” according to the statement.

The announcement however prompted outrage from the township’s senior groups, including the Senior Citizens’ Advisory Committee (SCAC) and Aging in Montclair (AIM), both of whom have campaigned for the use of the building as a senior center.

The township currently has no dedicated permanent space for senior activities and events. The Edgemont Park House has been used as a de facto venue since the spring of 2016. The United Way applied to the Board of Adjustment in February, and received approval in May, for renovations to the building, including establishing space for a senior and community center on the first floor. 

SCAC chair Ann Lippel and Carolyn Lack of AIM, as well as the Montclair Senior Housing Action Group, sent a joint statement Thursday night, Aug. 6, urging the township to continue negotiations with United Way, and to “explore creative solutions” rather than turning down United Way’s offer. 

“We know that 2020 is a difficult time for all of us. We challenge the lack of vision by the township in squandering the best location and opportunity for establishing once and for all a community nexus in the heart of one of our business districts,” the statement read.

Montclair and United Way have been in talks over the use of the space as a senior activity center for five years, according to the seniors. Out of the dozen properties the group investigated, SCAC representatives determined that the South Fullerton Avenue facility is the only one that could accommodate a senior center.

“The United Way is living up to that vision by offering an arrangement for a Community Senior Center. We ask that the township not dismiss the offer on the table out of hand but explore creative solutions to overcome the financial issues presented,” the letter went on.

United Way representatives said they are still hopeful that the building could still be used for the senior center. 

"We continue to believe the senior center can be a good fit for the Mills Building and we look forward to ongoing discussions with the new mayor and council," said Kiran Handa Gaudioso, CEO of the United Way of Northern New Jersey. "We understand all too well how the COVID-19 pandemic has created unforeseen budgetary challenges for everyone. United Way remains committed to the Montclair-area community and ensuring the building continues to serve the common good."

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.