PROGRESS: SO progress honors locals, supports the environment

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — 2018 was a banner year for South Orange, as the village saw redevelopment, popular events and environmental initiatives that are leading the way in New Jersey. The village also saw various community members honored through site dedications.

On Sept. 29, South Orange dedicated its new tennis courts to Kenneth Graham, a lifelong South Orange resident who coached tennis in the community for several decades. The event featured the unveiling of two new signs, as well as a tennis tournament. The new Kenneth Allen Graham Tennis Courts mark the first place in town to be named after a person of African-American descent.

On June 18, South Orange Performing Arts Center dedicated its theater to longtime supporters Tony and Jennifer Leitner; the main theater is now known as the “Jennifer and Tony Leitner Performance Hall,” with new signage.

On June 20, Seton Hall University dedicated its newest campus building, Bethany Hall, as a tribute to Msgr. Robert Sheeran ’67, in recognition of his 30 years of priestly service to the university, including 15 years as president. Sheeran requested that the new welcome center be named Bethany Hall, after the Biblical village where Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus received Jesus into their home, as a place of friendship and community.

In a major step forward on Sept. 20, village President Sheena Collum, flanked by municipal attorney Clyde Otis and village clerk and notary Kevin Harris, signed all closing documents for the sale of Village Hall to Landmark Hospitality, which will turn the building into a restaurant.

Other improvements have been made to enhance safety and inclusion. South Orange was awarded $115,852 through Community Development Block Grants to help the village make its police station Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, specifically for the bathrooms and a retrofit of the front of the building. The grants are funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and administered by the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development.

As part of its 2018 Roadway Resurfacing Program, Essex County repaved Scotland Road from Main Street in Orange to South Orange Avenue in South Orange. The project included milling the old surface off the road, repairing broken curbing, improving handicapped ramps and crosswalk areas at intersections, laying new pavement and painting striping on the new surface. And, during the summer, Brentwood Drive, Inwood Lane, Speir Drive, Cumberland Road, Briar Court, Tillou Road, West Third Street and Seton Place were milled and paved. In addition to the milling and paving, curb, sidewalk and drainage work was performed on Tichenor Avenue.

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel received a completely reconstructed walkway to lead to its outdoor worship and nature space, courtesy of Maplewood’s Ryan Saurborn, who undertook this community service project to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. The new walkway is easier for children and those with hampered mobility to traverse. Saurborn accomplished the project in phases that took approximately 18 months. First he stained and waterproofed the wooden benches and outdoor pulpit; then he tore up the entire existing ramp of bricks and stones, ultimately leading him to build the new ramp with purchased and donated materials, recycling as much original foundational material as possible and laying the new paver pathway.

Continuing to be a beacon for environmental causes, Sustainable Jersey awarded South Orange a $6,516 under the Roots for Rivers Reforestation Grant and Technical Assistance Program is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Jersey. The funding was given to South Orange to cover the cost of new tree saplings and protection for the fledgling trees to be planted by volunteers.

Some progress can be measured in what is taken away rather than added. In May, hundreds attended the eighth annual River Day to clean up the section of the Rahway River running through South Orange. The volunteers were able to remove a full dump truck’s worth of trash from the river.

Once again, local nonprofit Aspiring Kindness Foundation demonstrated its commitment to the South Orange community in a big way — by providing a $17,000 donation to the South Orange Rescue Squad to make necessary repairs to one of the squad’s ambulances. On April 22, SORS unveiled the newly repaired ambulance, which now bears the foundation’s logo.

And the village has begun looking ahead to the future, too. It has moved ahead with its plans to renovate the Baird, though the updates have not been completed. The project will involve outdoor changes as well as indoor renovations. According to the project architects, they will try to expand parking, and the roof will be redone to ensure it is weatherproof. The fire escapes will also be moved and redesigned to fit in with the building’s design. The renovation will also focus on the Baird’s main entry, which currently opens into an empty hallway; plans call for putting something in the entry to draw people inside. The Pierro Gallery will be relocated to give it more room for larger exhibits and to make it easier to find; there will also be upgrades to lighting and wayfinding tools.

As part of its commitment to receiving community feedback on the new South Orange Master Plan, the village unveiled a dedicated website to inform residents about the various elements of a plan, the leadership teams and volunteers who will be leading the charge, ways the community can participate through surveys and events, and the timeline to completion. The community is encouraged to visit the website at www.SOMasterPlan.com.

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