Expanded Senior Center with a new health and wellness center; municipal building renovation; new pavilion; Seward House renovations; soccer bathrooms’ facelift; Budd Lake dock extension- These are just some of the upcoming improvement projects being discussed in Mt. Olive.
The Mt. Olive Twp. Council dives into talks, at its May council meetings, about multiple projects for growth, improvement and expansion. Council Vice President Alex Roman led the May 31 meeting and raised some concerns about police strategy and inflation.
Roman requests that the police department analyze what happened at the mass school shooting in Texas.
“A lot of balls were dropped,” he says during the meeting. He would like the police chief “to analyze what happened over there, to know what our strategy would be if a horrific accident were to occur.” Roman says officials “need to look within and with outside eyes…to make sure we don’t have any gaps.”
His request caused some debate.
Councilwoman Colleen Labow says “it’s not a choreographed event; it happens. I do know our police department train; they are well prepared, but when an emergency happens you have to hope and pray, work through the system and save lives. Our officers are second to none.”
Mt. Olive Twp. Mayor Rob Greenbaum agrees with Labow and says the Mt. Olive Board of Education does actively train with the police department.
"You can only act and drill so much,” says Greenbaum. “We can only hope the police department do what they need to do.”
Roman adds to his point that many residents in Mt. Olive “would feel a lot better to know that our police department has a plan of action and contingencies upon contingencies. Our police should take a lead role on this.”
Roman also asked Mt. Olive Twp. Business Administrator Andrew Tatarenko if inflation will affect the township’s budget and projects planned.
Tatarenko says that although “prices have increased,” and vendors are saying they have the right to change pricing, “we’ll be fine. It’s had an impact” but we “won’t be able to not purchase anything.”
Greenbaum agrees saying “we’re well covered on what’s happened with price of fuel and oil. I don’t think it will have an impact on budget.”
Council members also approved resolutions and learned more about the status of certain projects.
Expansion of the Senior Center is one project being considered. Council members approved a resolution at its May 17 meeting authorizing the award of a contract for architectural design services for the expansion of the Mt. Olive Senior Center, at 204 Flanders-Drakestown Rd. in Budd Lake.
In the resolution, it awards a contract to The Musial Group in Mountainside for design services to expand the building.
According to the resolution, “the township is looking into expanding and doubling the size of the Mt. Olive Senior Center to create a new wing to house the Health and Wellness Center. The new space will include office space, break room, bathrooms, medical office and storage space.”
According to Tatarenko, “the Architectural Services have been discussed several times. Back in February the Council authorized the township to solicit proposals. “About a year and a half ago when the American Rescue Plan was approved, I asked department heads to think of projects that would meet the criteria for funding,” he explains. “One of the projects that was presented to support public health expenditures, as well as capital investments in public facilities to meet pandemic operational needs, a dedicated “Health and Wellness Center” was proposed to be constructed adjacent the Senior Center.”
Tatarenko says “Based on preliminary design, we feel we can double the footprint of the building and add another 5,000 square feet.”
He anticipates six to nine months “of design and bid preparation and then another 18 months of construction. Assuming the project is approved once we have a better idea of construction cost, I would anticipate the building being complete in 2025.”
The idea for the Senior Center expansion came about during budget deliberations. “The idea was discussed which the mayor and council were in favor of and it was agreed to move forward with step one which was to hire an architect to start the process,” explains Tatarenko. “Back in 2019 a Community Health Assessment was conducted to better understand the health needs of our community. The top concerns were Mental Health and Substance Abuse. The creation of this Health & Wellness Center would enable our Health Department to provide the services needed and expand its resources.”
With this expansion, Tatarenko confirms that “The Health Department which is now located in the Municipal Building, would move their operation to the new facility which is about double their current size. Having a Health and Wellness Center adjacent the Senior Center logistically makes sense since our Health Department oversees Senior Services.”
The cost is to be determined, says Tatarenko, “but would estimate anywhere between $1M-$2M depending upon square footage of the building.”
He says funds were approved in the capital budget to hire an architect.
“No other capital funds have been budgeted for construction at this point,” says Tatarenko. “A grant over $1.5M was applied for through a Federal Community Project Funding program which Congressman Malinowski submitted to the Appropriations Committee for funding.”
At the May 31 council meeting, Tatarenko updates the council with news that Malinowski did put forth the project as one of his 15 state projects for grant money approval.
“I’m optimistic the grant will be approved,” says Tatarenko. “I’m hoping this is a positive outcome for some funding down the road.”
The expansion “will have no impact on the current Senior Center, other than re-locating their bocce courts,” says Tatarenko.
“This proposed facility will provide multi-jurisdictional impact to Mt. Olive and our shared service communities and give the Health Department the ability to expand its services, most notably, in mental health and substance abuse,” says Tatarenko. “The additional space will allow us to be better positioned to continue our shared service agreements reducing the overall tax burden of our community. With the increase in mental health issues and substance abuse cases exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic, the need for these services has grown. Our community is concerned with the difficulties our residents are faced with and this project will help start to address those needs.”
The Senior Center expansion is just one of the three proposals being considered by the township. The other two include renovation of the municipal building and converting 5 Pondview Lane into a recreational facility.
“We were looking for proposals for the three projects,” says Tatarenko, “however, we are only ready to move forward with one of them at this time.”
The Police Department presented the idea as it ultimately ties into the Municipal Building Renovations project as well, he adds.
If the Senior Center project gets completed, then the health department will relocate into the new Health and Wellness Center leaving vacated space for the Police Department to expand, as explained in the resolution.
“This project lays the groundwork for a secondary renovation project to allow the Police Department to expand into the vacated space,” confirms Tatarenko. "Pond View is still in legal review – nothing to report,” he says.
Renovation of Municipal Building
"Nothing is being renovated at this time,” says Tatarenko, but ideas of how this vacated space could be used are being discussed.
“Assuming the Health & Wellness Center gets built, the Health Department will vacate the Municipal Building leaving room for the Police Department to occupy the space,” says Tatarenko. “The police departments needs have grown since the building was constructed and additional space is needed to better serve the community.”
The Police Department presented the idea, he says. The project would include “updated locker rooms and bathrooms, new office space and storage room,” says Tatarenko.
He has no idea what the cost of these renovations would be. While “no funds have been approved or budgeted” for this project, Tatarenko says “it would be a capital budget request.”
The Mt. Olive Police Department has 50 sworn officers, eight full-time dispatchers, three administrative staff members, part-time crossing guards and dispatchers. “The town has progressed and grown throughout the years and we need to position ourselves for the short/long term growth of our community,” explains Tatarenko.
The renovations would also include a fitness room to be used by the police department, he adds. While there are other departments in the municipal building who could have utilized this projected space, Tatarenko says “shifting around other departments was considered but other departments all have adequate space to meet their needs.”
The basketball court at Turkey Brook Park is slated for some improvement toward the end of the summer, Tatarenko shares at the May 31 council meeting.
"I will get an update to see if I can expedite it,” he says.
The council passed a resolution authorizing the adoption of bids for the partial exterior restoration of the historic Seward House at Turkey Brook Park. The township is seeking historic restoration general contractors to submit applications.
This next phase involves restoration of the porch, says Tatarenko. The roof, cupola and chimney are currently being restored. An additional phase next year will include more exterior work; and then interior renovations will begin several years from now with a grant application for funds.
The council also approved a resolution for a Budd Lake Dock extension and fishing pier. Grant application has been made to the Morris County Open Space and Farmland Trust to purchase land just right of the boat launch.
Construction of a new giant pavilion at Turkey Brook Park has begun, Tatarenko shares. Ground has been broken for installation of a concrete pad with completion plans for July.
Lastly, the bathrooms located in between the soccer fields at Turkey Brook Park will be getting a facelift with new paint and a new roof.
"That will look nice once all completed,” Tatarenko concludes.