CDBG grants to improve quality of life in two towns

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — South Orange, Maplewood and a local nonprofit organization have received a total of $297,753 from the Community Development Block Grant Program, an initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered through the Essex County Division of Housing and Community Development that provides monies to projects benefiting low- and moderate-income populations.

Of that total, South Orange was awarded $118,216 to fund the construction of an ADA-compliant entrance to The Baird community center; Maplewood received $171,637 to pay for the reconstruction of Van Ness Terrace; and the South Orange-based Electronic Information and Education Service of New Jersey was given $7,900 for operating costs. The two projects and the service were chosen by the county after meeting either the program’s income qualifications or its standards for ADA and senior citizen projects.

While it was no surprise that the towns and nonprofit won the money — locally, the CDBG Program gives funds of varying amounts to Essex County municipalities and charity organizations yearly — South Orange Village President Sheena Collum said the grant it received is certainly welcome.

“The Board of Trustees is incredibly grateful to our partners in Essex County,” Collum told the News-Record in a March 7 email. “Every dollar received through grants and alternative revenue sources helps offset tax increases, which is incredibly important to controlling costs.”

Collum said the construction of an ADA-compliant entrance for the Baird was selected by the town for funding this year because the recreation center’s current entrance does not meet ADA standards and is also deteriorating. Also, she said the Baird has a high volume of traffic and many visitors come for the senior programs, so creating a new entrance was a priority.

According to Collum, the project will entail completely removing the current serpentine ramp and front entrance, replacing the porch and installing a new ADA-compliant ramp and doors. After receiving all bids for the project on March 8, she said the village will likely accept the lowest one at either the March 14 or March 28 board meeting. The project is expected to be completed in June or July, she said.

Maplewood is also happy to receive its latest CDBG grant after a long history of using the money to fund community-development projects that the township would not have been able to otherwise afford, Mayor Vic DeLuca said. The reconstruction of Van Ness Terrace is one such project; DeLuca said that the long roadway, which runs between Boyden Avenue and Stanley Terrace, is in need of a repair, but the town did not have the funds to carry out the project on its own.

Thanks to the grant money, DeLuca said the township is now able to mill the existing pavement and put down new asphalt. He said portions of the road may be closed down periodically as that work is done, although detours will be set up so that traffic flow is not impeded. The mayor added that the township will go out for bids in the spring with the project expected to begin in the summer, lasting for approximately one month.

For EIES of New Jersey, a service for blind people, production manager Jeffrey Taylor said getting grants like the one from the CDBG Program is more than just beneficial — it is essential.

“It’s our lifeblood,” Taylor told the News-Record in a March 4 phone interview, explaining that EIES is totally dependent on grants. “If we don’t get these types of grants, we don’t continue to broadcast, which means we’ll eventually have to the doors. So each grant is so important.”

Taylor said the $7,900 received from the CDBG Program will go toward funding staff salaries and paying off bills. In effect, it will allow EIES to continue its work allowing blind people to experience the printed word through its reader program, an initiative in which sections of prominent newspapers including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are read and broadcasted to blind listeners via the Internet and EIES’ special transmitters.

According to Taylor, EIES connects the blind to the outside world through richness of depth found only in newspaper articles. And while numerous other similar services have disappeared through the years due to the economy, Taylor said the generosity of the county and other benefactors have allowed the organization to stay afloat and continue to make a difference in people’s lives.