$800K for Orange Recreation Center questioned at debate

ORANGE, NJ — While the groundbreaking for the new Senior and Youth Recreation Center inside the old YWCA building on Main Street went smoothly for Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren on Saturday, May 7, not everyone at a recent debate was convinced all the $2.5 million in grant money was available to make the project happen.

“Why does it seem city officials have an issue with expending $800,000 on a Youth Center for our kids?” asked Science Park High School teacher Jonathan Alston. He moderated a debate in the YWCA building Wednesday, May 4, sponsored by the “All Politics Are Local” radio show.”

The $800,000 in reference was reportedly brokered by the Warren administration from Superintendent of Orange Public Schools Ron Lee and the school district, although neither the superintendent nor the school district would confirm such a deal existed.

“I’m glad that the administration was able to get a grant. This building has a lot of potential and it needs a lot of work,” said East Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Kerry Coley on Wednesday, May 4, at the debate.

“I think the $800,000 is about the cost of repairing the pool,” said former Zoning Board member Janice Morrell, a candidate for mayor in Orange, on Wednesday, May 4, at the debate. “I don’t think we know how much the cost of the pool repair will be. There were grant applications, requests and agreements that were made without the consent of the City Council.”

Coley said, “If the pool is going to be redone, it should be done in a manner that it can be used competitively.” He and others said upgrading the pool in the old YWCA building for use in the new recreation center would allow it to pay for itself by generating revenue from charging fees to host interscholastic swim meets and competitions.

Warren did not specifically refer to the $800,000 in responding to Alston’s question on Wednesday, May 4, but focused more on the $2.5 million grant from the state Department of Community Affairs.

“The $2.5 million is free money,” said Warren on Wednesday, May 4. “It’s a grant. We don’t have to pay it back. I never used it politically. The one question that the community told me was they didn’t want to use taxpayer dollars.”

However, when Warren was questioned by Councilwoman at large Donna K. Williams and members of the public on Monday, Dec. 14, the mayor said the Orange School District would be making funds available in the amount of $800,000 for the center, meaning a bond and interest for which taxpayers would be responsible.