By GWEN OREL
The Senior Citizens Advisory Committee and Aging in Montclair had hoped the building would house a new senior center for Montclair. United Way applied to the Zoning Board for renovations to make that possible in February.
However, township officials announced in August that they were no longer considering leasing the building on South Fullerton Avenue, based on financial considerations.
Since its opening, the 68-year-old-building has housed the United Way and offered space to other social service agencies, including Montclair Cares, Laptop Upcycle and Shelterforce, and has been a Third Ward polling place.
It was conceived as a hub for social service agencies to serve the community, and financed by the Davella Mills Foundation, which was conceived by Montclair philanthropists David and Ella Mills, United Way said in a release. When it opened in 1952, eight nonprofit tenants took up residency.
The transfer agreement, which became effective on Oct. 1, releases United Way from all landlord duties while allowing it to maintain a stake in the building.
“By transferring the building’s majority ownership and management to NJCC, United Way can focus fully on providing critical services to Montclair-area struggling families,” United Way officials said.
The organization will focus on meeting the needs of ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) essential workers and those in poverty, according to a release.
NJCC President Wayne Meyer that his organization is excited to “preserve and renovate a space that continues to catalyze opportunity and expand the capacity of our state’s nonprofit sector.”
Senior Citizens Advisory Committee Chair Ann Lippel wrote in an email that her group congratulates United Way and wishes them luck going forward. “During the period of township negotiations with United Way/New Jersey Community Capital, the SCAC developed a working relationship with New Jersey Community Capital representatives,” Lippel said.
“Given their go-forward stewardship of an important structure in Montclair, we consider NJCC a potential resource for the future, although we are well aware that the township’s current financial position has precluded any near-term space commitment.”
The Advisory Committee will continue to work with United Way in areas where there is overlap, Lippel said, including the Caregivers Coalition, and where ALICE interests intersect with the Advisory Committee’s concerns for underserved older residents.
Aging in Montclair President Annette Weis also said her organization had been working with United Way/NJCC and will continue to do so. While the senior center would no longer be possible in the Mills Building, she looked forward to working with NJCC on projects of joint interest.
Of some concern to local arts groups is what would happen to the proscenium stage in the Mills Building. Opera Theater of Montclair and Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates have both used the space for productions.
Mark Munley, NJCC director of special projects and governmental affairs, said that the auditorium and stage will stay as is. An air conditioning unit will be added and the space will still be available for rent.
Other improvements planned for the building include installing historically correct windows and making historically accurate repairs to the front entrance in order to reopen it to visitors and tenants, Munley said. The entire building will have a new air conditioning and heating system. Bathrooms will be replaced.
NJCC will soon begin the renovations; Munley said that they expect to be finished with repairs and make the stage available for rental sometime in late 2021.