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Howell council tables action on concession building at Soldier Memorial Park

HOWELL – Members of the Howell Township Council have indicated they will continue to discuss a plan to appropriate $1.2 million for the construction of a concession building at Soldier Memorial Park, which is located on Lakewood-Farmingdale Road.

Municipal officials are also discussing the possibility of scaling back plans for the building.

An ordinance that would appropriate the funds to construct the building was scheduled for introduction during the council’s Jan. 21 meeting. However, the ordinance was tabled in a unanimous vote among council members after residents raised questions about the cost of the project.

The 178-acre Soldier Memorial Park is owned by Howell and consists of five baseball/softball diamonds, nine soccer fields, three tot lots, four picnic areas, parking areas, portable restrooms and storage trailers.

The facility is the largest park in Howell and is used for practices, games, camps and tournaments for sports leagues and teams, including Howell Girls Softball, Howell Lacrosse and the Howell United Soccer Club. The park is the host to the annual Howell Day community event.

Municipal officials said the proposed project would result in the construction of an 1,800-square-foot building with restrooms, a concession stand, permanent utility service and a storage area. A new seating area would supplement the park’s picnic tables.

Representatives of Maser Consulting presented the project to the council during a public hearing in August 2018 and the construction cost was estimated at $750,000.

That same year, council members authorized the submission of an application to Monmouth County for a grant. Officials said they were informed the grant would be a reimbursement and would give Howell 50% of eligible construction costs up to a maximum of $250,000.

At the time, Jim Herrman, Howell’s director of community development who was serving as the acting deputy township manager, said there was more than $3 million in Howell’s Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund for projects “just like this.”

The ordinance that was tabled would have appropriated $1.2 million from the trust fund.

Following the Jan. 21 council meeting, Township Manager Brian Geoghegan said that as the cost of the project has increased by about $450,000, the council members decided to table the ordinance.

“We are currently researching options to scale back the size and/or use of the building in addition to checking with the county to see if altering the original project will affect the grant,” he said. “We are currently researching the town’s ability to modify the original grant proposal and still be eligible for the funding.”

During public comment, resident Tina Smilek questioned the increase in the cost of construction. She asked what organizations would use the building and if those organizations would be paying for it.

“Are we going to make any money off this to pay for this?” Smilek asked. “I think we should be able to see the plans. How many bathrooms are we getting? There are a lot of questions here.

“I think $1.2 million is ridiculous. I understand we need bathrooms there. I understand we need facilities there, but for $1.2 million, people could build a mansion in Howell and here we are,” she said.

Herrman said there are answers to all of the questions that were raised.

Councilwoman Pamela Richmond said the council members would table the ordinance and discuss the proposed legislation at another time.

Councilman John Bonevich told Smilek that everything she said was discussed in executive session.

“We have lots of questions,” Bonevich said.

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