HOPEWELL VALLEY: Area residents weigh in on the senior center’s fate

HOPEWELL: Area senior center to remain open indefinitely

Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
A new multi-use community center that includes a swimming pool, plus dedicated space for Hopewell Valley senior citizens that is reached by a separate entrance, should be built within the next two years.
But the location of the community center – on Scotch Road, near the Capital Health Medical Center-Hopewell, or near the ShopRite grocery store on Route 31 at the Pennington Circle – drew about equal support.
That’s the consensus that emerged from a recent study conducted by Hopewell Township officials as they attempt to gauge interest in a new center that would meet the needs of Hopewell Valley residents.
The non-binding survey was open to all residents of Hopewell Township, Hopewell Borough and Pennington Borough who were at least 30 years old.
The survey was triggered by plans to close the Hopewell Valley Senior Center on Reading Avenue in Pennington because of ongoing maintenance and repair work that is needed on the building. Pennington Borough officials announced plans to shutter it by the end of the year.
“(Hopewell Township officials) can use this opportunity to create a new community facility that would serve all residents of Hopewell Valley,” according to the survey introduction. The township contributes $5,000 per year toward the current senior center in Pennington Borough.
Meanwhile, consultant Ken Zeldis presented the survey’s findings at the Hopewell Township Committee’s July 10 meeting. While Township Committee members listened intently, they agreed that they needed more time to digest the information. Efforts will be made to reach out to Hopewell Borough and Pennington Borough.
Mayor Kevin Kuchinski said that a meeting would likely be held with Mercer County officials. There is grant money available through Mercer County, and the survey would be helpful in applying for a grant toward the construction of a community center or senior citizens center, he said.
The survey was posted online on the Hopewell Township municipal website between May 9 and June 6. Paper copies were also made available. Slightly more than 500 people responded to the survey, which also asked for respondents’ age and the town in which they live.
Walking Township Committee through the survey results, Zeldis, the consultant, said 59 percent of the 508 respondents said they were interested in a community center, and 28 percent said they might be interested in it.
Asked about their preference for a community center, 57 percent favored a community center with a swimming pool and dedicated space for senior citizens, and 27 percent favored a community center with space for senior citizens – but no swimming pool. Only 12 percent favored a stand-alone building for senior citizens’ use only.
The preference for a site was nearly evenly divided between Scotch Road, adjacent to the Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell (52 percent), and Route 31, near the ShopRite grocery store (56 percent).
But there was overwhelming desire – 68 percent of respondents – to see a community center built within two years.
As to how a community center should be supported financially, overall 54 percent preferred a per-use fee and 28 percent favored a monthly membership fee. If a dedicated senior citizens center would be built, 46 percent said they did not want to pay a fee at all.
The survey also asked whether Hopewell Township residents would be willing to pay a dedicated levy of 1 cent attached to the Hopewell Township municipal property tax bill for a community center.
Of the respondents, 62 percent said they would be willing to pay a 1-cent tax levy for a community center. Those who preferred a stand-alone senior citizens center – and those who are at least 80 years old – were less willing to pay a tax to support the center.
After the consultant completed his presentation, Mayor Kuchinski said that while the results are “pretty clear” – residents want Township Committee to take action – there are nuances in the survey results and Township Committee needs time to study it.
During the public comment portion that followed the presentation, Hopewell Township resident Harvey Lester – who is a former Township Committee member and mayor – challenged the survey results.
Lester said that 508 people – or about 5 percent of the target audience of about 10,000 residents who are at least 30 years old – indicated a preference for a community center. The implication is that 95 percent of Hopewell Township residents are disinterested, he said.
But Zeldis, the consultant, said the survey was put on the township’s website and residents could fill out the survey if they wanted to do so. To say that 95 percent of residents did not fill out the survey and therefore are not interested is “silly,” Zeldis said.