Community Center plans could move forward
The Hopewell Valley Senior Advisory Board remains opposed to the idea of a new community or multi-use facility, and instead hopes for simply a new senior center to replace the building in Pennington being closed in December. This comes in response to the seemingly conclusive survey carried out by Zeldis Research Associates, presented to the Township Committee at the July 10th meeting, which showcases a majority of Hopewell Valley citizens interested in the creation of a new community center.
The Advisory Board, which was created partially to reach the goal of building a new senior center, does not recognize the results of the survey as valid, not only because they do not express the need for a stand-alone senior center, but also because the survey was created without the advice of the Board. “The board had voted 5-0 against the survey on May 17th, prior to the survey being sent out, because they weren’t involved in developing the survey, so they would reject it out of hand,” Township Committee member and Senior Advisory Board liaison Kristen McLaughlin said.
At the July 10th meeting of the Hopewell Township Committee, Ken Zeldis of Zeldis Research Associates presented their findings based on the survey taken by over 500 members of the Hopewell Valley community gauging interest in a possible senior or community center.
Residents of Hopewell Valley over the age of 30 were able to participate between May 9th and June 6th. 486 residents filled out the survey online on the township website, while 22 had write-in interviews, giving a total of 508 participants, which Zeldis Research Associates used as a statistical sampling of the Hopewell Valley population. For the majority of the report, the findings were based on those who expressed at least some level of interest in a new center.
From the survey, 87% of the survey respondents said that they were or may be interested in a new center, and older respondents were significantly more likely to express such interest. However, older respondents were also more likely to want a stand-alone facility for seniors, while 92% those between the age of 30-59 wanted some sort of multi-use facility, that may include a pool or other equipment for recreational activities.
The preference for location was split among adjacent to ShopRite at the Route 31 Circle and adjacent to Capital Health on Scotch Road. Most respondents would like to see the center constructed under two years. For those that preferred a stand-alone senior center, almost ⅔ also said that they would be interested in a center if transportation was provided.
More than half of those interested in a center want a per-use fee, while a quarter want a monthly membership format. A majority of respondents are also willing to pay a $.01 levy per $100 to support a new center.
For those who wanted a multi-use facility, the general interest lied in fitness and education programs. For respondents over 60, the most interest was in educational services, followed by special events and inter-generational programs.
There were some obvious implications from this survey. It is clear that Hopewell Valley residents prefer a multi-use facility (with or without a pool). Either location would be adequate, but the older respondents seem to prefer a location on Scotch Road. Lastly, a per-use fee is preferred to a monthly membership, and a sizeable majority, when asked if they would be willing to pay a $.01 levy per $100, said they would.
At the same meeting, the township Environmental Commission introduced a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to place some form of tax on companies for carbon emissions. Michael Aucott of the Commission described the resolution and the idea as “something that has bipartisan support. It would be a way of cutting carbon emissions, and the Environmental Commission urges you to vote yes.”
Committee member John Hart opposed the resolution. “There’s no scientific research that carbon is the cause of global warming, and it looks like there’s going to be a tax on companies that produce carbon. I’m not ready to jump on the global warming bandwagon,” Hart said. Deputy mayor Julia Blake provided an opposite view, stating that “not only am I willing to jump on the bandwagon, I’m willing to push it.”
Aucott compared this bill to a “kind of fire insurance. The risk of not having it is huge compared to the cost of having it.” Lastly, Nora Sirbaugh, chairman of the Environmental Commission, gave a few thoughts before the vote. ““We are driven by decisions by the fact that there are people behaving badly, selfishly, or with a myopic view. We’re in this together, we care about our kids, our families, our futures. This carbon tax probably mitigates the government interference, because it’s structured to give back. This is meant to improve people’s behaviour.
The resolution was then passed 4-1, with Hart opposed.
While a survey regarding the possibility of a senior center had also been used in 2009 that provided similar results, Mercer County rules required a more recent survey. “The survey was (re)done because it was the first step that all three municipalities were required to take in order to apply for a Mercer County grant. The grant offers $500,000 in matching per municipality,” McLaughlin said. With three municipalities involved, this could offer $1.5 million in grants, which would be matched by another $1.5 million by the municipalities, all towards a new center.
After the survey presentation, committee member Vanessa Sandom questioned Zeldis on how the survey results track with what he’s learned through other surveys, to which he replied that the Hopewell Valley results are quite similar to others in the region. Sandom then stated that “it seems to be across the ages that there is interest in a multi-facility community center. This is one tool that we’ll use to figure out what we want to do.”
Ryan Kennedy, president of the Board of Directors for the Hopewell Valley YMCA thanked “the committee for bringing up this issue to the forefront of discussion. Our data has shown again and again that Hopewell Valley seniors want some sort of senior center.”
However, while the Committee seemed to be in agreement that the results were conclusive, not everyone was quite satisfied. Former mayor Harvey Lester brought up a few points that he believed weakened the results. “Why is the implication that the Hopewell Valley wants a community center when you got answers from 5% of the target audience? Also, is the committee aware, that during the Senior Advisory Board meeting, they voted 5-0 to reject the senior/community survey because they were not consulted?” Lester questioned.
Zeldis responded to the claims of an under-surveyed population by stating that they were using a popular statistical method called sampling, where a percentage of the population is used due to resource limits.
McLaughlin later explained the vote of the seniors, who were “a little frustrated that they weren’t consulted in making the survey, but we had hired an outside company to make it,” she said. The Board will be getting a special presentation explaining the results later this summer.
The frustration of the seniors came from not only a survey that was made without their insight, but one that proposes a community center as opposed to just a senior center. “The Senior Advisory Board was formed to support senior activities in the valley and to work towards a senior center. The seniors, for years, have wanted a bigger space for their activities than their current space,” McLaughlin said.
However, “there is a county program called ‘Mercer at Play’ which also gives $500,000 in matching grants to the municipalities for areas of active recreation, so we included the idea of the community center in the survey,” she added.
While the idea of a new senior center has always been popular, the December closure of the current senior center on Reading Avenue in Pennington, used and funded by all three municipalities, has made this issue urgent. “The Pennington building is old and is need of some work. (In the meantime), the seniors definitely need a new space to continue the Mercer County Lunch Program, which provides nutritious meals to seniors everyday at the Pennington center.” McLaughlin said.
“I would expect to have that answer by the end of the summer. No one wants to see the nutrition program paused, as that’s critical to the health of some,” she said.
Along with hosting the lunch program, the current senior center also holds Explorations, an “education program for seniors. I think the program now has to go outside of that Pennington building, because there’s just not enough space,” McLaughlin said.
The next step for Hopewell in building a center will be to create a “financial model of what we want to do. We’re investigating different funding models, such as public-private, public only, etc., to make it financially stable and secure. Once we have that, we can start talking about figuring out a location,” McLaughlin said.
“Hopewell Township this year did put $10,000 into our budget to start the design process for the senior center,” she added.
In the meantime, McLaughlin suggests that all Hopewell Valley residents “look at the results at haveyoursayhopewelltwp.org, as there is an opportunity there for them to ask questions and get answers.”
“I think, with the survey results in hand, and the grants available, now is the time for us to finally make a home for the seniors and include the broader community. Now we just have to get to work, pull all the pieces together, and make something happen,” she said.
McLaughlin does not believe that residents should expect a sudden change. “Getting all the players on the same page takes effort and time. Nothing in government moves quickly, and nor should it, because you come to a more thoughtful result when you take your time developing your ideas.”
However, the township will be focusing on the issue in the coming months. “What’s clear from these results is that the residents want us to take action,” Hopewell Township mayor Kevin Kuchinski concluded.
The next Township Committee meeting will be on August 28th. To view the survey results or ask a question, please visit http://www.haveyoursayhopewelltwp.org
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