Best for Community
To the Editor:
As everyone is aware, immediately following Superstorm Sandy it was determined that the Mill Creek Community Center was damaged beyond repair. This fact triggered a three-year debate with FEMA and our insurer to secure funding to replace the building.
Throughout that process it became clear that the location of the community center in Beach Haven West was less than ideal if it was determined that we could or should only build one facility. The mayor and council decided they would move the location to the site of the old town hall, which had functioned as a community center and emergency station immediately following the storm. This determination was made based on what was best for the entire community in terms of location, functionality, and if necessary, emergency response.
The old town hall site is on the edge of the flood zone, not in the center, and in fact, suffered no flooding during the storm. Its proximity to emergency services as well as medical and other necessary services made it the ideal location to address any emergency facing the township whether it be flooding to the east or fire to the west.
This decision was reached after much discussion and deliberation based on the fact that the funding available would be for one and only one building. The mayor and council felt, as they do today, that the community center was located on Mill Creek Road because that was where there was free township land available 25 years earlier, but it was not the ideal location for the primary community center used by all residents of Stafford. The Bay Avenue location was determined to be safer and significantly more functional for the entire community.
The mayor and council continued to plan for the construction of a Mill Creek facility and has in fact looked at several possibilities and some funding options, but the debate has continued and the points raised over size and adequacy of the proposed facility have actually given rise to a concern that perhaps the best course of action is to evaluate the current program and the two existing facilities in operation and then determine what type and how large a facility should be in Beach Haven West.
Some residents have claimed that there were promises made and promises broken with regard to the construction of a facility at Mill Creek. Initially the council did anticipate building a small facility at Mill Creek; however, that was before we received bids that were significantly greater than estimates and the Stafford Township School District decided to sell its property, known as Pine Street, adjacent to the new community center on Bay Avenue. The council determined that the most prudent use of taxpayer funds was the acquisition of that facility.
It was determined that not only was it four to five times less expensive than the Mill Creek building based on multiple bids, but its annual operational cost would be substantially less because of staffing issues with a new site. The township will also receive up to $140,000 toward the cost of renovations to the Pine Street facility, making the final cost to the township a million dollars less than the construction of a facility on Mill Creek.
There also seems to be significant discussion over the funds received from Alec Baldwin for the replacement of the community center. Simply put, Mr. Baldwin contacted the governor’s office within days of the storm, looking for ways to help communities that suffered losses in the storm. The governor’s office contacted Mayor Spodofora and asked what we could use. Mayor Spodofora told the governor about the possible loss of our community center and our need for funds to replace the community center.
There were no discussions about locations or any other matters involving the community center with the governor or Mr. Baldwin. In fact, all of this took place in November and December (2012) immediately following the storm, and we did not even have an insurance or FEMA determination at that time. Both would not come for another three years.
At this time and based on the bids we had received on a smaller facility, the investment in a community center in Beach Haven West is projected to be in excess of $1.5 million without the prospect of funding from any outside source. This would mean that the taxpayers of Stafford are solely financially responsible for this facility.
The mayor and council have unanimously determined that the most prudent course of action for all the residents of Stafford Township is to delay the construction of a facility in Beach Haven West pending an evaluation of the existing facilities in operation and if at that time a determination is made to construct a new facility on Mill Creek Road we will have adequate information upon which to determine the scope and size of the project based on the community’s needs.
John R. Spodofora, mayor
Stephen Fester, Steve Jeffries, Paul Marchal,
Sharon McKenna, Alan R. Smith, David Taylor, council members