ROSELLE, NJ — Officials from the state, Union County and the borough of Roselle broke ground on the borough’s Mind and Body Complex, a facility that will house a new public library, a recreation center and more than 20 pre-K and kindergarten school classrooms.
The 100,000-square-foot complex, which is being built on five acres of land, has undergone nearly five years of cross-agency planning involving the borough, Roselle public schools and the Union County Improvement Authority.
The April 20 groundbreaking took place at the development site, at Chandler and Harrison avenues in Roselle.
Other features of the complex are a community center with a fitness center, pool, media and technology rooms; improvements to the borough’s Arminio recreational field; and the addition of 182 public parking spaces. The complex will also feature a canopy-covered and landscaped concourse.
Until now, Roselle has been leasing space at two locations to accommodate pre-K and kindergarten classes, paying $700,000 per year for space the borough does not own.
The last school built in the borough was the Leonard V. Moore Middle School, in 1962. The borough’s community center, built in 1972, currently serves as a senior center, and Arminio Field, constructed in 1912, was last upgraded in 2006, when a new sprinkler system was installed.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Union County Freeholder Bruce Bergen thanked Roselle’s Borough Council, Roselle’s Board of Education, the county’s freeholder board and improvement authority and state Assemblyman Jamel Holley, whom he called the project’s biggest champion.
“Every great community deserves the services this complex will provide — and Roselle is no different,” Bergen said. “And today is the day when Roselle residents can begin looking forward to a brighter future. It’s a future filled with an early childhood learning center, library, recreational activities, family and adult activities and community programming.”
The project is being financed with a 30-year $59 million bond issued to the borough of Roselle and the Roselle Board of Education. Because the county’s credit rating is better, according to county officials, the borough has asked the county to guarantee the bonds, which in turn has resulted in a better rate for the borough.
Roselle initially will be setting aside $500,000 per year for three years for a debt service of $1.5 million.
AST Roselle has been named the developer of the project.
According to Holley, the borough is working within its current budget to deal with the costs of the project.
“This is one of the most premier projects,” Holley told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “My interest is that public tax dollars go to a building of our own. At the end of the day, this is an investment in their own property and building. We’re asking the BOE to reserve $300,000 from its budget.”
Holley also said that the borough will be getting an influx of revenue from the borough’s new golf course, which may help offset the cost. Holley said the project is under way and should be completed in 12 to 18 months.
The flip side of the issue is the cost to residents, as some have questioned the impact on property taxes in the borough.
When the plan was unveiled in 2013, an average tax increase of approximately $150 per year was projected. Three years later, however, that amount has risen to an average of just over $300 per year.
According to documents, taxes in the borough increased by almost 50 percent between 2004 and 2011.
Roselle business administrator David Brown said the borough has been inundated with requests for projected tax information and he was in the process of compiling it.
Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau said that although she wants the borough to have amenities, real cost to taxpayers must be definitive and transparent.
“People have said that they want a town hall meeting, that they want to know what’s going on,” Dansereau told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “My concern is that this has snowballed. We want to be positive and move ahead, but you can’t sink your teeth into ‘maybe.’ We have no contract to know what this is going to cost.”
According to Dansereau, she has supported many cost-effective recreational youth programs, but she is concerned about affordability to residents.
Currently, said Dansereau, the average household income in the borough is approximately $46,000, with the average property tax bill about $10,000. In addition, Dansereau maintains that the borough is about $36 million in debt. “The proposed tax increase, according to the mayor, which is based on a home with an assessed value of $140,000, has changed repeatedly.
“First, we heard $140, then $160, then $240 on a $140,000 assessment,” she said. “The public should have concrete information about their tax investment. There is no proposal for the costs of running and operating it.”
Dansereau maintains that borough residents are not aware of costs associated with the project.
“Our folks in the community who are taxed very high are under the impression that everything that will go on in this building will be free because the information hasn’t been provided to them,” she said. “What I am looking for is the money that my predecessor said would pay for that,” Dansereau said of Holley. “That pot is empty. The contracts and agreements have changed. All I’m saying to the public is, ‘Know what you’re buying.’ No one is saying it shouldn’t be done.”
Holley said his goal has been to keep the project as affordable for residents as possible and that false numbers have been disseminated.
“The tax bills that the opposition are putting out there are incorrect. They’re false. The community doesn’t want this; they demanded it.”
Holley also noted that Dansereau expressed support for the project just a few years ago when she served as the borough’s councilwoman-at-large.
Dansereau said that until all of the information is disseminated, affordability remains a question.
“The questions is, will we be denying the affordability to live in this town?” Dansereau said. “Our constituents need a full picture. We should be investigating and saying, ‘Are you ready to make this commitment?’ We do that in our own private lives. Every piece of my heart wants everyone in this town to have a place to grow and socialize, but the pragmatic side of me understands that this is a partnership, and everyone deserves to know what that partnership is.”