North Bergen has moved to purchase the former parish center from St. Rocco’s Catholic Church.
The township’s Board of Commissioners has adopted an ordinance acquiring the property for $2 million. The building is located at 4201 Kennedy Boulevard, directly adjacent to Town Hall, and is formally known as the John Paul II Social Center.
According to Township Administrator Janet Castro, it is not clear yet what the building will be used for, as things are still in the preliminary planning stages. However, the building will not be demolished but rather renovated for reuse. And one potential use could be for public health needs such as clinics or vaccinations, but plans are not yet finalized.
A deal had been in the works some years ago regarding the Archdiocese of Newark selling the property to the township, but it fell through. However, when they came to the township this time around, both entities were able to agree to the sale. The archdiocese was looking to sell the property because it was too costly to maintain and “no longer contributes to the spiritual activities of the parish.”
The board voted unanimously to adopt the ordinance at its May 11 meeting.
Not going to be a school
At the meeting, Mayor Nicholas Sacco rebuked notions that the building could be used for a school.
North Bergen is seeking to divert parkland in James J. Braddock North Hudson County Park after operating temporary pre-school trailers on an old Green Acres-funded softball field within the confines of North Bergen High School’s Bruin Stadium football field and track for the past two plus decades.
As part of the diversion process, the township must prove there are no suitable alternatives to the current location in Braddock Park, to which some had argued this building could potentially serve as a preschool. Sacco did not agree, citing the lack of infrastructure.
“I read an op-ed talking about how we should turn Saint Rocco’s into a school,” Sacco said. “You’re talking about a place where there’s no parking, there’s no drop off or loading zone. Other people who tried to purchase the building were told there’s no loading zone for the building. That’s why the building wasn’t sellable or even rentable.”
In addition to a lack of parking, the area is not suitable for a school, Sacco argued.
“There are no playgrounds around the building… as opposed to the beautiful open area they’re in,” Sacco said of the pre-school in the park. “There’s no playground here. And it’s next to a crematorium.”
Sacco jokingly mocked the idea of a school being next to a crematorium: “I hate to be a little saucy, but what are we going to do, take them on tours of the crematorium? That’s insane.”
Meanwhile, township officials are continuing to work with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to complete the diversion process and ensure that the pre-school program can remain in its current location.
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