The large community room of the Multi Service Center at 124 Grand St. was packed Wednesday as Hoboken residents and Mayor Ravi Bhalla discussed the future of the facility. The mayor assured the public that the agencies that already occupy space there, including several for the needy, will stay, but some think the building could be used for more: a pool for the community, athletics for seniors, classroom space, and after-school activities.
The city has decided to do a feasibility study to determine which services could be expanded on and which could be added.
The two-story building currently houses Hoboken Day Care 100, a low-cost day care for infants and kids up to 5, open to the public. It also has housed Hoboken Family Planning, Inc. for 40 years, providing medical services that include cancer screenings, gynecological exams and testing, contraceptives, physical exams and more to the uninsured and underinsured population.
The Hoboken Charter School rents a conference room from the center and uses the second floor gymnasium and The Hoboken Public Library provides a small annex. The city also has offices in the Multi Service Center, including the Recreation Department, Health Department, and the Division of Senior Services, which not only offers activities to seniors, but handles Meals on Wheels and a medical waiver program.
124 Grand St. also has an outdoor roller rink for hockey and a second-floor basketball court utilized by different groups in town, including Cheer Dynamics, Next Basket Wins, and a basketball group for women over 50.
The problem, Bhalla said, is not that the facility is underused. In fact, he said, it’s “bursting at the seams.” He thinks the city can find ways to “better utilize its footprint.”
LaTrenda Ross, a commissioner at the Hoboken Housing Authority, said she wants to see current programs expanded so there are more services offered for the health and well-being of everyone, especially seniors. She said the building could offer an employment center, a certification center for food stamps, and after-school programs.
She also said she’d like to see community space for fundraisers.
She said the center needs a rebranding and perhaps a new name, as there is no mission statement currently.
Resident Richard Kurland said he would like to see a pool – something that residents have asked for for over more than a decade.
“If we are talking pie-in-the-sky ideas, then if you could please add to the wish list a swimming pool of some sort,” said Kurland. “Please incorporate an indoor Olympic-sized pool of at least six lanes that could be utilized by young and old.”
Bhalla said his own “pie-in-the sky vision” is a rooftop community pool but his concern is funding. “Not saying that that isn’t possible,” he said. “That would be wonderful.”
In the meantime, several surrounding towns offer guest memberships to their town pools.
“I want to disavow any rumors that the city will cut any services currently existing in the Multi Service Center.” – Mayor Ravi Bhalla
Resident Barbara Gross said she would like to see the building include housing for “the people who work in town but perhaps can’t afford to live in town.”
Resident Liz Ndoye said she would like to see additional space dedicated to the arts, perhaps a place where everyone can learn to paint or draw or enjoy performing arts such as dance and music.
Anne-Marie Pelletier, who has lived in town for 30 years, said there aren’t a lot of recreational or athletic opportunities for women over 50. She said more people are choosing to stay in town as they get older, and that there should be more athletic opportunities besides the women’s basketball group she plays with.
Resident Elizabeth Adams said she would like the outdoor roller hockey rink to perhaps become a family roller rink that could be utilized during the warmer months and in the winter it could be turned into an ice rink.
Hoboken installed a temporary ice rink two winters ago under the Viaduct, but did not bring it back this past year.
Jerome Abernathy, president of the board of trustees for the Hoboken Public Library, said he would like a larger permanent library annex located in the center to serve residents who can’t make it to the main library on Fifth Street. He said as a parent he would also like an indoor play space for children because “there isn’t much of that.”
Tim Calligy, who is the head of facilities for the Hoboken Public School District, said perhaps the schools could use the center for classroom space, as the district has seen a growth in enrollment.
Other requests included a new website so people can request gym space or room space, a gym with a spring floor for cheerleading which helps prevent injury, and better air conditioning and heating systems.
Several people were concerned the discussion on the future of the center could lead to the elimination of existing services.
Bhalla said, “I want to disavow any rumors that the city will cut any services currently existing in the Multi Service Center. I want to preserve what we have now and find opportunities where we can expand what we have now to make it even better for the residents of Hoboken.”
Lynda Pizarro, a resident of over 50 years, asked if there would be a gap in services. “A lot of seniors are here because we want to know about the facility and how it will be utilized during the process,” she said. “Will we be displaced to some other facility? Will the services we use be displaced?”
“It’s a legitimate question,” Bhalla said. “If we try and improve the quality of space here, what will be the phasing plan, and will it result in the temporary loss of usage, and how long that will be, and is that’s acceptable.”
He said those concerns will be considered in the process.
Director of Hoboken Family Planning Bill Bullock said he was worried about possible construction disrupting their services. He said if the existing footprint of the space they utilize is changed, the agency will have to go back to Trenton to get a new license.
Resident Daniel Tumpson said he was concerned with the possible loss of light and air space if height is added to the building.
“I’m concerned if we increase in height and spread out larger and denser. There may be a bit of an additional benefit and public space for the community, but in exchange” they lose light.
The city has already issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) for professional services from architects, engineers, and specialist who would put together a feasibility study on what the center could look like and incorporate.
According to city planner Jessica Giorgianni, “It calls for them to do a big public process” which she said will include community meetings, surveys, and “a lot of public input.”
The RFP deadline is the end of the month.
Once professionals are selected and approved by the City Council, Bhalla expects the public process, which will create a study and at least three concept designs, could take nine to 12 months.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.