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Council Debates Funding For Recreation Center

Though a Community Development Block Grant will pay for the rebuilding of the Friendly House, council members debated recently how to afford air conditioning for the building.

The Township of Belleville has agreed to rebuild the Friendly House recreation facility – and has the money to do so – thanks to a Community Development Block Grant.

But it appears some of the details haven’t been ironed out, such as whether to add air conditioning to the building.

Arguments apparently broke out among council members during a private session on Tuesday and those in attendance could overhear some of the heated exchanges about the Friendly House.

However, the six council members emerged and told those attending the meeting that they are working together to complete the project, located in the township’s Silver Lake District, without using local taxes.

“They are helping to look over the plans to get air conditioning, while finding ways to keep the costs within the CDBG grant money,” said Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke, whose represents the district where the building is located.

 “We had some questions about whether we are staying with the budgeted amount, and making sure that there is no additional burden on taxpayers,” said Councilman Steve Rovell . “(Michael) Nicosia and (Vincent) Cozzarelli came up with some good ideas to stay within the budget and within the time frame.”

Rovell agreed and added, that despite the shouting that went on, the hope is to come up with “creative solutions” that will allow for air conditioning to be installed.

The new building – which will take the place of the former township recreation center known as the Friendly House – is scheduled to be constructed using $589,000 in Community Development Block Grant money. The Friendly House is planned to expand day care services and senior citizen exercise programs for all residents.

The council agreed to shift money around so that the building can have an air conditioning system, according to Burke, “This will help us take care of our children and help our senior citizens.”

The council voted in July to award a contract for reconstruction of the Friendly House to Stonebridge LLC of Watchung, which submitted the low bid of $589,000 on April 20, according to the resolution. The money must begin to be spent or county officials may pull the grant, Burke said.

Nicosia is a contractor and Cozzarelli graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and added their expertise to the efforts, Rovell said. Nicosia and Cozzarelli could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Rovell said the council is concerned about spending at a time when Belleville residents are suffering with high unemployment and a poor economic climate. “We made a commitment to the people of Belleville to look out for their tax dollars,” Rovell said.

Now that the contract is awarded, construction could start before the winter weather begins, officials said.

The new Friendly House is planned to provide morning and afternoon day care sessions, senior citizen aerobics and include a community room for all Belleville residents. The day care programs would be an expansion of similar programs at the Belleville Recreation House on Joralemon Street, Burke said.

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