SOMA towns receive block grants for improvements

Photo Courtesy of Glen Frieson
South Orange was one of 13 Essex County municipalities, including Maplewood, to receive a Community Development Block Grant. From left are Essex County Housing and Community Development Director George Serio, Sheriff Armando Fontoura, South Orange Trustee Deborah Davis Ford, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. and South Orange acting Administrator Adam Loehner.

MAPLEWOOD / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — The two towns have both been awarded money through Community Development Block Grants, funding given to municipalities for infrastructure improvements, community programs and building renovations. The Electronic Information and Education Service of New Jersey, based in South Orange, also won a grant in the nonprofit CDBG program.

Maplewood was awarded $168,204 for phase two of the Woodland Road Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, while South Orange won $115,852 to bring barrier-free access to its police headquarters. EIES, a nonprofit organization that provides access to printed words for those with visual impairments, was awarded $7,742.

“Programs supported through the CDBG and ESG programs are direct investments to provide services that enhance our quality of life and help stabilize our neighborhoods by modernizing our infrastructure and supporting programs that assist vulnerable populations,” Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said in a Feb. 23 press release. “These federal grants enable us to upgrade our sidewalks and roads, enhance handicap access, address mental health needs, support food pantries and stimulate the overall development in our communities.”

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. To be eligible, municipalities and nonprofit organizations must meet specific criteria determined by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funds have no impact on the county budget and cannot be used as revenue in the operating budget.

“Generally we use it for expenses,” Jeffrey Taylor, a production manager at EIES told the News-Record in a March 2 phone interview. “New computers, new microphones, an arm that needs to be fixed. Sometimes we need new recording equipment.”

The program has been awarded the CDBG grant every year that Taylor has worked there.

“It’s an essential part of our budget and makes a big difference for us, and for the other organizations as well,” Taylor said.

According to South Orange acting Administrator Adam Loehner, the township’s grant will go toward a larger project to improve the South Orange Police Station. The project began in November 2017, and is ahead of schedule; the grant will allow for ADA improvements.

“It’s going to be used for the bathrooms and a full retrofit of the front of that building,” Loehner said in a phone interview with the News-Record on March 5. “It’s a real help for the ADA improvements. We try to make all the buildings as welcoming and as nice as we can, and this grant money is definitely a help.”

Maplewood’s grant money will also go toward an ongoing project. Currently at The Woodland, an elevator is being installed that will reach all three floors of the building. The grant will go toward phase two of the ADA improvements, according to township engineer Paul Kittner.

“We’re going to have an improved ramp; restriping, so it’s easier to see where the handicap parking spots are; and push-button electric doors,” Kittner told the News-Record in a phone interview on March 5. “It’s being designed now.”

Kittner estimated that the project will likely be completed sometime during the summer.

“We have to comply with the ADA regulations,” Kittner said. “But the building was not accessible, so we needed this.”