Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sharon Robinson-Briggs - Courier -Presents plans for senior center

Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, July 18, 2006

City's mayor presents plans for senior center

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- Long-delayed plans to build a new senior center are moving forward after Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs presented preliminary plans for an apartment building on East Front Street that would house the center on the ground floor.

The plans -- initially presented to the senior building committee, then at a monthly meeting with seniors last Tuesday -- calls for three floors of condominiums above the center.

The mixed-income project would be mostly funded by the developer, Dornoch Holdings of Morristown. The firm could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

The proposal for the 17,000-square-foot building includes a large kitchen, common areas and second-floor terrace garden to be shared by seniors and condominium tenants.

The mayor also proposed that a section of the first floor be designated as a permanent meeting space for veterans.

"I'm really looking forward to building this new center for the seniors; they waited long enough, and they deserve it," she said Monday.

Clarke Caton Hintz, a Trenton-based architectural firm, included 63 apartments in its designs, which could provide the city with $400,000 in annual tax revenue, city officials said.

The project could be completed within 12 to 14 months of a ground breaking, the mayor said.

Former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams proposed constructing a new senior center building on East Front Street, about half a block away from the current center.

That proposal put an end to years of indecision and wrangling about where to place the center.

Ground was broken last May and officials estimated the building could be finished by this summer, depending on weather and other factors.

Later in 2005, a protracted tug-of-war arose between McWilliams' administration and the City Council about funding for the construction, which was to cost from $3.5 million to $4 million.

Eventually, council members approved the sale of $11.7 million in bonds, a portion of which was to fund the center.

One advantage to the new proposal, according to officials, is that the development would cost the city $500,000 -- far less than the initial plan.

"Clearly, that's a tremendous savings over what was being proposed before," city Administrator Carlton McGee said. "Plus, the property will remain on the tax rolls."

The center may be financed from the previous loan, which now needs to be refinanced, he added.

Despite officials' enthusiasm, the plan has a way to go before becoming reality. After the period for accepting proposals is formally closed, the developer has to get approval from the Zoning and Planning boards, as well as the City Council.

But the next groundbreaking will signify the project is well on its way, Robinson-Briggs said.

"I don't want a groundbreaking that is a photo-op," she said, "but a groundbreaking with cement pouring and a due date for steel beams and lumber to be delivered."

Kim Brown can be reached at (908) 707-3176 or kbrown@c-n.com.


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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.