To the editor:
The has served our town for many years. Originally erected in 1938 as the Mary E. Roberts High School gymnasium and cafeteria, it is a solidly built structure that serves many uses today. On the ground floor, it hosts a weightlifting program. On the main floor, a basketball and volleyball court serve the community. And on the third floor, many functions are held, which serve a variety of needs.
In fact, the third floor was created through a coalition comprised of a township recreation subcommittee, both rotaries, the , the FOP, township staff and administration, as well as vendors donating their supplies, who pulled together and renovated and remodeled this space. The goal of this project, known as “The 3rd Floor,” was to create a community center whose anchor purpose was youth programs. New lighting, a new floor, air conditioning, an approved Board of Health-grade kitchen, and safe, clean bathrooms were all completed as part of this project. Electrical service was extended to the third floor to serve its needs. Finally, with the assistance of a block grant, an elevator was installed giving everyone access to this new center for youth. This was all accomplished between 1997 and 2003. This effort has been an example of true community spirit.
The recreation center has served many town functions: meetings of CASA (Community Alliance on Substance Awareness), dance classes, battle of the bands, a DeCafe, and even a dinner for the town’s volunteer committees. The gym has served as a venue for regular youth sports programs. Significantly, many children who have grown up in our town learned the game of basketball in the gymnasium under the tutelage and refereeing of such people as Mike Bartello, who still works on our recreation staff, as well as many coaches who lent their time and knowledge. Volleyball and other positive recreation activities for youth have also been provided by town employees and volunteers in this gym.
Recently evaluated by engineers, staff, and others connected with recreation, this building was found to have needs in areas which had not been addressed in its previous 73 years of service. Mechanical and electrical upgrades are needed, as well as a new gym floor. A bond measure to support this work had passed on first reading at a previous council meeting and was . This one vote stopped the progress for renewal of a town asset. It set aside the work of the engineers, architects and staff we have already funded, and, more than that, it put off the plan to commit to the support of the varied youth activities which have been housed in this building and supported by community efforts for many years.
I ask council to reconsider, put back on the table, and reevaluate the need for this facility. In the words of youth advocate and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Communities should work to make sure each young person has an ongoing relationship with a caring adult, ideally parents—but also mentors. There should be a range of safe places and activities for non-school hours.”
Town council, let’s make a commitment to the future of our youth in this community by approving this recreation building project.
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