Belleville Township leaders are building a new recreation facility to expand day care services and senior citizen exercise programs.
The new building – which will take the place of the former Friendly House – is scheduled to be construction in Belleville’s Silver Lake section with the help of $589,000 in Community Development Block Grant money.
Three years after the original structure, known for a century as the Friendly House, was knocked down, the township council voted in July to build a scaled-down structure, according to First Ward Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke.
The original Friendly House recreation facility on Frederick Street housed an indoor pool, a basketball court and a recreation room, and was used by Silver Lake residents.
Now, Burke said the $589,000 in Community Development Block Grant money administered by Essex County will be used to build a new structure at the same site.
Now that the contract is awarded, construction could start before the winter weather begins, officials said.
"We have to use this money or another town will get it instead," Burke said in an interview. "The new building will be like the Little League fields or the senior citizen center on Mill Street, for everyone to use."
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, not just those residing in Silver Lake, Burke said.
The day care programs would be an expansion of similar programs at the Belleville Recreation House on Joralemon Street, she said.
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.
Nicosia had suggested a scaled-back renovation when he first was elected to the council in 2006, Rovell said, "but Councilwoman Burke would not hear of it."
After the renovation bids came in at more than $2 million as Nicosia predicted, a majority of the council decided that spending that much would burden taxpayers, so the majority voted against that renovation plan, Rovell said.
Fourth Ward Councilman John Notari said he supports the scaled-back plans.
“We’ve been working on this for three years,” Notari said. “I think this is a plan we can make happen for all residents to have better recreation programs.”
This reporter toured the former building more than three years ago, and found lead paint peeling on the walls of the second floor basketball court after the nearly century-old building had not been heated for winter months in 2009, while the rest of the structure appeared intact.
Frantantoni has said that repairs were made to the building and as a contractor himself, he thought the structure should have been saved from demolition, and he township Planning Board should have had to approve knocking down the structure.
“It should never have been knocked down,” Frantantoni said previously.