By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
There have been several failed attempts to establish a dedicated senior center within Montclair’s borders — but now, Essex County might step in to build one.
Although county officials are remaining mainly mum on details of a proposed senior center, the Montclair Township Council approved a resolution at its Aug. 24 meeting in support of an Essex County plan to establish a center at Glenfield Park.
“Whereas, the County of Essex plans to establish a senior center in the south-western portion of the Essex County’s Glenfield Park, abutting Maple Avenue, in the Township of Montclair … and the Township Council appreciates Essex County’s intentions and believes that establishing a senior center at Glenfield Park would well serve the Township’s community and would improve the quality of life of the Township’s seniors; the Township fully and enthusiastically supports Essex County’s plan to establish a Senior Center,” the resolution reads.
Montclair Local sent county officials questions about the size, scope, funding and timelines for the project, but county spokesperson Anthony Puglisi said it’s too early in the process to know those details. County commissioners have not yet placed a project on an agenda.
“County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo is always looking to improve the quality of life for residents. The Wally Choice Community Center [in Glenfield Park] is a heavily used facility and the thought was what could be done to enhance the utilization of Glenfield Park,” Puglisi told Montclair Local. “Before doing any planning, the County Executive wanted to gauge the level of interest of the community. The township responded with the council passing its recent resolution.”
Councilwoman Robin Schlager couldn’t contain her excitement.
“This is so exciting. Joe doesn’t do anything small. We are so lucky,” Schlager said at the meeting.
Montclair’s senior organizations — Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, Aging in Montclair and Montclair Gateway to Aging in Place — all are in favor of a county senior center in Glenfield Park.
“Older residents, especially those who have chosen to remain in the community after retirement, are gratified that the long-held goal of having a senior center might be realized. The population of over 55 is the fastest-growing population in this town and [we] look forward to the opportunities a senior center will provide us for support and enrichment,” Susan Craig, chair of the Montclair Senior Citizens Advisory Committee, said. The committee advises the Township Council and staff on programs and policies.
Fran Hecker, vice president of Aging in Montclair, said that group, too, supports a centralized senior center, but hoped that county would soon be able to provide more details and would include Montclair’s senior groups and committees in future planning.
Essex County Commissioner and Montclair resident Brendan Gill said a new senior center in Glenfield Park “is a much needed, welcomed addition for the park and its patrons,” but that it is still in the infant stages.
“I certainly support Glenfield becoming the latest county park – along with Weequahic, Watsessing, and Cedar Grove Park – to have a new facility constructed on its grounds. I applaud the county administration for moving forward with this process, and I will do all I can to help facilitate its completion,” Gill said.
In March 2012, with funding from the Partners for Health Foundation, the Eldercare Department of what was then the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey (later merged into the group now known as the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ) undertook an investigation into the feasibility of an aging-in-place effort for Montclair. The report generated from the research, “How Can We Help Older Residents of Montclair Age in Place?” supported a centrally located senior center to provide “all supports and services a senior household might need.”
“Communities are strengthened and reinforced over time,” the report states. “Montclair has experienced a lot of destabilizing forces, and without a central address for seniors, a facilitative structure for senior services, or a community center, it is difficult to foster connectedness.”
Since 2016, the Edgemont Park House has served as the informal venue for senior activities. Seniors have said the house is too small to adequately meet a robust schedule of senior programming, and accessibility and parking has also been an issue.
In 2020, a proposal to renovate a portion of the United Way building on South Fullerton Avenue to be dedicated to seniors fell through. Although the renovations were approved by the Montclair Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Township Council abandoned the plan after the cost of rent, which was not disclosed, was deemed too high.
In August, the township issued a statement that the “financials proposed by the United Way representative far [exceeded] comparable market norms for municipal facilities and what the township could afford — even prior to the pandemic.”
Councilman Bob Russo, who has served on the council for decades, said a dedicated senior center has been a long time coming.
“As the oldest council member, it’s a hopeful sign we have this from the county. Seniors have been waiting a long time to see this come to fruition,” he said at the meeting.
Mayor Sean Spiller credited Councilman David Cummings — representing the Fourth Ward, where the center would be located — with helping to facilitate the concept.
Cummings said the resolution was just a formality in getting the senior center moving.