South Orange Moves Forward on ADA Improvements to Former Italian Cultural Center

by Mary Barr Mann
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Recently, the township of South Orange Village was gifted with a building — the Father Vincent Monella Center of  Italian Culture at 133 Fairview in the Seton Village neighborhood.

The gift presents opportunities as well as the need for public investment in the property.

The opportunities were on full view at a celebration on October 30 at the building. South Orange officials touted 133 Fairview’s possibilities as a new center of community activity, along with other improvements, grants and projects on Irvington Avenue and in the Seton Village neighborhood — including streetscape improvements, Carter Park upgrades, a $125,000 grant from the New Jersey Neighborhood Preservation Program, and the upcoming development of once-blighted properties at 270/299 Irvington Avenue.

On October 30, Village President Sheena Collum thanked the Italian Cultural Center’s board for the gift, which she said would allow for the Seton Village neighborhood to have its own community center. and that investing in the neighborhood was “equally if not more important” than investment in other parts of town.

On November 8, township leaders began discussing the investments needed to improve, maintain and operate the building. At that night’s South Orange Board of Trustees meeting, Trustees passed a resolution awarding $14,500 to hire Alexander Elias Architecture for a 12-month period for architectural services — beginning with oversight of an American Disabilities Act grant that will improve access to the building.

Trustee Bob Zuckerman noted that while he found the architect to be “excellent,” he wondered, “We have not yet even had a community discussion about what this building is going to be, what we are going to be using it for and how we are going to be using it. Isn’t his putting the cart before the horse?”

Village Administrator Adam Loehner explained, “We have reassigned one of our our CDBG [Community Development Black Grant] grants to a building for ADA access. Because we can’t do it at the Baird, we moved it over to 133 Fairview.” Loehner pointed out that an architect was needed to help with ADA access issues.

“This will get him up and running so we can do this ADA project,” said Loehner who added that the architect could then aid the township in developing a “strategical plan and a goals for what we want to do with the building overall.”

Loehner explained that the ADA grant would only involve access and not interior changes that would entail knocking down walls or changing the layout of the building. “This is not a giant ADA grant,” said Loehner, noting that the grant was from 2018.

Trustee Summer Jones asked if there was a timeline yet for community meetings to determine future plans for the building.

Loehner said that no dates had yet been set.

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