Rec Center grand opening isn’t pleasing everyone

ORANGE, NJ — Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren has scheduled a kick-off celebration on Saturday, May 7, to mark the grand opening of the new Senior Citizen and Youth Recreation Center housed inside the former YWCA building on Main Street.

But that isn’t sitting well with his mayoral opponent Janice Morrell and others in the city concerned about black mold and other potential health hazards in the old building. Morrell said she’s not convinced the building is safe, therefore she and her at large City Council running mates — Andrea Elliot Sharief Williams and former Councilman Rayfield Morton — have scheduled a protest for Wednesday, May 4, outside the mayoral candidates forum to be held at the new recreation center.

“Outraged parents, taxpayers, and political leaders of Orange will protest in a public demonstration on Wednesday, May 4, 2016, at 6 pm EST at 395 Main St. Orange, NJ 07050,” said Morrell in a press release Tuesday, May 3. “Disgruntled taxpayers and concerned citizens are demanding Mayor Dwayne Warren to make the YWCA safe because of hazardous and unhealthy conditions, such as black mold. Unsanitary conditions should not be open to the public. Mayor Dwayne Warren feels it safe enough to host the final mayoral debate at the YWCA that over 200 people are expected to attend.”

According to Morrell, the Warren administration was awarded $1.2 million to renovate the old YWCA site. But she said expressed concern about whether that amount is enough to remediate the black mold she said is inside the building, and to make other repairs.

Some of those concerns were first raised by Murphy Wilson months ago at a City Council meeting, when the incumbent mayor answered questions about the deal to first lease then purchase the old YWCA building. Wilson is a member of the Orange Board of Education’s Facilities Committee.

Based on testimony from the city’s construction official, Paul Arthur, and engineer Justin L. Gibson of Remington, Vernick & Arango Engineers from Cinnaminson, who both discussed the challenges posed by mold, the swimming pool, the HVAC system, the electrical system and other issues inside the YWCA building, Wilson said at a Dec. 14 City Council meeting that she didn’t think the building should be in use.

“The Board of Education tried to rehab this building and the estimates that we got were much higher than this,” said Wilson. “I don’t know why you have any programs going on in that building, when you have mold, because that’s liability. Mold is one of the sneaky ones. Mold is like ‘The Blob’ in the old movie — it spreads and spreads. And then there’s asbestos. I don’t know why you have people in there if you know about the mold and asbestos.”

Morrell, like Wilson, is waving red flags about the potential health hazards for seniors and youth in the facility Warren has said he purchased specifically to serve those two segments of Orange’s population. And, she said the old YWCA is just the tip of the iceberg, citing possible contamination at the new playground the Warren administration installed at the Youth Center on the corner of High and Alden streets.

According to Morrell on Tuesday, May 3, that youth center “is located on land that was once owned by U.S. Radium … (where) employees who worked at the factory became sick from the radium and died from cancer. The soil was tainted with the radioactive material.

“I feel this property is still contaminated with radon and the park is not safe for children. Mayor Warren plans to open the park to the youths of Orange this month.”

There was no response from the Warren administration by press time this week about Morrell’s allegations about the playground located at High and Alden streets.