The Maplewood Township Committee voted Tuesday to allocate $200,000 for urgently needed repairs to the Woman's Club. The committee also agreed to start negotiations with the non-profit HK Project to be the interim manager of the property, which the township will officially own on May 29.
Committeeman Jerry Ryan said after evaluating an architect's estimate of $1.75 million to restore the building, the Woman's Club Task Force and the township's engineer had decided some of the more costly items on the plan were unnecessary and they would prioritize which were essential.
"That is the architect's proposal, not the township committee's proposal," said Mayor Vic DeLuca. "We are not going to spend that kind of money." He said the township would focus on making the building safe and usable.
Ryan ticked off must-dos such as fixing electrical and heating systems, replacing downspouts, repairing water-damaged walls and remediating a small amount of mold. The task force decided against some of the bigger ticket items such as adding air conditioning, installing an elevator and renovating the kitchen.
He also said the task force ruled out tearing down the building or shutting it down indefinitely. "We're not proposing that," Ryan said.
The costs will mostly come from money the township previously agreed to bond for the purchase of the club and from the township's building improvement fund.
"We may decide to spend more; in fact I think we will decide to spend more," said Ryan later, "but right now [that's] what we have and what we will spend." He added, "There is still some work to be done to assess the [architect] report, and prioritize the work to be done, and decide once and for all what will be done right now, what might be done a little later, and what might never be done."
HK president Tom Kerns, who had once hoped to buy the building and has said after the meeting that he would be happy if he and the township could come to terms. While he declined to comment specifically on the $200,000 estimate, he said some urgent repairs were needed to allow it to continue to function without interruption.
HK has already been acting as the building's de facto caretaker, paying utility bills and overseeing maintenance, said Ryan.
The agreement with HK will be on a month-to-month basis not to go past the end of the year, by which time the township hopes to have selected a permanent partner.
The TC also voted to hold an open public forum in June to discuss uses for the Woman's Club building. Deputy Mayor Kathy Leventhal said after hearing from non-profits and others, it is time "to see if there are any creative ideas that Maplewoodians can bring forward."
DeLuca said he wanted to correct inaccuracies that had been reported about the club. First, he said, the purchase price is $1,004,100; second, a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) currently in effect on the property is $6,000 per year, which has already been paid for 2013.
He also addressed concerns raised by John Harvey, who lives next to the club, about striping work that was recently done to the parking lot.
"We thought it was prudent to stripe since we had a [purchase] agreement and a crew was already there and we are about to start public parking there," said DeLuca, who said the township had received an easement from the owners to do the work.
Harvey, who spoke in the public comment period, said the township was "incredibly reckless" to move ahead with closing on the property without knowing the full extent of the repairs involved or who will eventually manage the property.
"I'm stunned we don't have this information," said Harvey. "What’s the rush? No one is going to jump in and take the property from under you."