NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. officially dedicated the new community center building in Weequahic Park in Newark. The new 7,500-square-foot building replaces a much smaller, concrete block building that had outlived its usefulness. The project is part of an ongoing initiative to ensure parks facilities meet the changing needs of the community.
“When the public enters our park, I want them to feel welcome and have access to modern facilities that meet their needs. Our new community center, with its high ceilings, natural lighting and modern accommodations, will provide park visitors with a welcoming public space that better fits their needs and the groups that use the park,” DiVincenzo said in a Sept. 15 press release. “This was all made possible with the support of Gov. Phil Murphy, who listened to our request and understood the positive impact this will have on our residents.”
“I am honored that we could be a partner on this project. This is a crown jewel within a crown jewel. This took my breath away,” Murphy said about the new building and Weequahic Park in general.
“This is my neighborhood. We used to come to this park all the time. The county executive has done a tremendous job in making sure improvements are continually being done. This building is a tremendous addition to the park,” Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka said.
“I can assure you that this center will be overutilized,” Weequahic Park Sports Authority President Doug Freeman said.
“This building is made of bricks and mortar, but it will be the people who use this building that create its legacy,” said Michael Middleton, son of Feldman “Mootsie” Middleton Jr., for whom the building is named. “This is a fitting place to honor my father’s legacy of helping others. I look forward to this center being used as a place to bring families together.”
The new building was modeled after the community centers recently built in Cedar Grove and Watsessing parks. The 7,500-square-foot building has a large room for activities, a full-service kitchen, and office and meeting space for the Weequahic Park Sports Authority and the Weequahic Park Association, two community groups that have partnered with Essex County to maintain the park and provide programming for the community. The picture window and high ceiling allow for more natural light into the main room.
In front of the building, a driveway leads up to a 40-foot-long covered carport to enhance access to the building. In the back of the building is a 100-foot-long patio for outdoor seating that overlooks the Bill Hicks Baseball Field. The building has restrooms with outdoor access for park visitors.
The community center was named for the late “Mootsie” Middleton in 2016. He was a Newark entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Weequahic Park Association and the Weequahic Park Sports Authority. The new community center will continue to be named in his honor.
Comito Associates from Newark was awarded a professional services contract for $271,000 to design the new community center. Aps Construction from Paterson was awarded a public bid contract for $4,519,000 to perform the construction work. The building was funded with a grant from the state of New Jersey. Construction started in December and was completed in nine months.