The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

North Avenue demolition cleanup under way


Demolition debris is gobbled up, to be trucked away.
 

Plainfield's North Avenue Historic District was chock-a-block with activity on Monday as a shiny aluminum over-the-road trash trailer
was pulled up in front of the rubble from the March demolition.

Elsewhere, cars and a delivery truck were illegally parked on the 'no parking' side of the street and a NJ Transit bus had pulled over where the street widens near the train station to jump out and pick up a carry-out lunch from one of the restaurants lining the block.

The trash trailer was marked with huge black lettering spelling out Y A N N U Z Z I, the contractor's name.

Bricks and debris were gobbled up in the maw of a large scoop and dumped into the waiting trailer. Yanuzzi crewmen were everywhere, guiding traffick, climbing the rubble heap and watching over the dumping of debris.

By 3:30 PM, the crew quit for the day, the trailer was hauled away and passersby vould see that a sizable dent had been made in the pile of rubble.

A young man who works in one of the building housing the damaged Mi Buenaventura restaurant and several other shops told me that the owner of that building was planning to raze the entire structure.

This will mean displacing several small businesses that have been there for years, and present land use officials with a new task: how to ensure the new structures that are sure to rise will fit in with the city's only Victorian commercial historic district.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Could Morristown Hospital tax ruling affect Muhelnberg?


A NJ Tax Court has ruled against the hospital's non-profit status.
 

Could Plainfield's Muhlenberg Hospital property be affected by the tax ruling on Morristown Hospital that came down on Friday?


Hospitals and communities across New Jersey have been watching with great interest the suit by Morristown against its longtime non-profit hospital (the largest in the Atlantic Health System), alleging that the hospital does not meet the criteria of a non-profit hospital and owes the municipality property taxes for several years. Morristown did not dispute the hospital's IRS 501(c)(3) status.

Hospital official say the decision could cost it $2.5 to $3 million per year. You can read details of the case in the NJ Spotlight story (here) and the Ledger (here).

New Jersey Tax Court Judge Vito Bianco ruled the hospital failed to meet the legal test for operating as a charitable non-profit.

Among the issues Biano raised are --
  • The hospital appears 'functionally similar' to for-profit hospitals, with both non-profit and for-profit subsidiaries intertwined;

  • The hospital failed to show where its non-profit activity ends and its for-profit relations with physician groups begins;

  • Private physicians and medical practices both earn and retain income on the hospital's property;

  • 'Non-profit' hospitals generate significant revenues and pay salaries competitive with for-profit institutions; and

  • The hospital had 'intermingled' interests with other for-profit operations.
Plainfield has pressedn JFK in the past about its non-profit status.

Since JFK's predecessor, Solaris, closed Muhlenberg in 2008, the main building was stripped of its equipment and converted primarily into records storage. Although outpatient imaging is done on the premises, it is not clear if this is private, for-profit medical practice using the Muhlenberg facility.

Complicating matters even more for JFK are the subdivisions of its property that it sought and won. The Snyder School of Nursing is now a standalone property, and activity there cannot count toward the main campus use.

The same goes for the former Kenyon House, which houses the DaVita unit and is the site of the to-be-built new Satellite Emergency Department (SED).

It may be that the Morristown case fits Muhlenberg less than it does JFK proper, since the primary issue in Plainfield is the abandonment of provision of hospital services, not the blending of non-profit and for-profit activities.

At any rate, it must be an anxious time for JFK's board of directors.

And perhaps an opportune moment for Plainfield to apply a little squeeze.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Plainfield teachers have a new contract


PEA members rallied for a new contract in 2013.
 

Word comes
that the Plainfield Education Association (PEA), which represents the school district's teachers and support staff, has finally reached a contract settlement.

The local has been working without a contract since the previous agreement expired in the 2012-13 school year. I am told the agreement sets 2% increases for each of the four years it covers. As I see it, this means that the union will need to go back into negotiations next year for a new contract period.

Meanwhile, the PEA, which is the local affiliate of the New Jersey Education Association (NJE) is said to have received a stern warning in April from the state organization that the local was out of compliance with the NJEA's rules concerning affiliation. Evidently, there were complaints over the failure of the PEA local to properly elect representatives to the higher levels of the union organization.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Reception for Richard Lear photography exhibit today


Artist's reception for photographer Richard Lear is today.
 

There will be an artist's reception for the photography exhibit of Plainfield resident Richard Lear at the Plainfield Public Library today (June 27) from 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM.

Lear is a noted nature photographer and an exhibit of his work is mounted in the library's Anne Louise Davis Gallery, where it will be on view through August.

Richard and his partner, Carlos Ponton, are active in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and recently showed off the garden of their Madison Avenue Spanish Revival home as part of the libnrary's Garden Tour fundraiswer.

The Plainfield Public Library is at Park Avenue and West 8th Street and is an accessible facility. Parking is available in the 8th and 9th Street lots. For more information about library hours and programs, visit the library's website at plainfieldlibrary.info/.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, June 26, 2015

Council OKs Bilingual Day Care transition


The program will continue to operate in the current facility.
 

With Councilors Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor and Tracey Brown absent, Plainfield's City Council special meeting on the Bilingual Day Care Center (BDCC) situation got under way at 7:11 PM on Thursday in a crowded City Hall Library.

While the topic of having a nonprofit entity take over the operation of the BDCC has been discussed for years, the Mapp administration made the move as the retirement of founding director Eva Rosas-Amrault looms.

in his remarks last evening, Mayor Mapp noted that the situation was painful, had been studied for a long time and was being driven at this time partly by Rosas-Amirault's upcoming retirmenet (meaning staff changes would be on the horizon). He also moted that seventy percent of the public schools' enrollment is now Latino.

City Administrator Rick Smiley also noted that the HOPES organization would offer more services to both the children and their families than is the case with the BDCC currently.

Council President Bridget Rivers graciously president over the public comment, but was firm about the time limits.

Several people spoke against the transition, as though it meant the end of the BDCC -- even though the Mapp administration had taken pains to point out that would not be the case.

Resident Alan Goldstein spoke in favor of the transition, citing his experience on the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee years prior, when the matter had been the subject of discussion and a recommendation to the Council.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf attempted to get into a back-and-forth with Council President Rivers, who stuck to her guns. In the end, Gutenkauf asked her questions and the administration gave its answers, without any back-and-forth.

Councilor Storch, elected chair of the committee of the whole in the absence of Councilor Brown, finally offered the two resolutions --
  • To enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with HOPES to mange the transition process; and

  • To submit a layoff plan to the state (employees will be given 45-day notice after the state's approval, usualy within 30 days of submission of a plan).
The roll call vote on both resolutions was unanimous.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Special Council meeting on Bilingual Day care set for tonight


PBDCC children at a 'Dia de los Ninos' event.


A special City Council meeting on Plainfield's Bilingual Day care has been called by Mayor Mapp for 7:00 PM tonight
at City Hall Library.

Though I previously noted the meeting (see here), the Clerk's office issued a revised meeting notice that added one more item -- a resolution entering into a Memorandum of Agreement with HOPES to transition the Bilingual Day Care program to an independent entity. Plainfield Today previously took a look at the issues and the players (see here) involved in this gnarly situation .

If the Council shows up and if positive action is taken on the three agenda items, a layoff plan will be filed with the state and the transition process will begin.
 



  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

July 4th lineup includes Latina as parade's grand marshal


Longtime community activist Flor Gonzalez is this year's Grand Marshal.

Plainfield's 92nd annual Central Jersey July 4 Parade steps off on Saturday morning July 4 at 10 AM and proceeds down East Front Street from Johnston Avenue to Park Avenue.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has designated Flor Gonzalez as the Grand Marshal of this year's parade.

Gonzalez, founder and president of the Latin American Coalition, has been active in providing services and assistance to Plainfield's immigrant community for over thirty years, including citizenship classes for hundreds of successful applicants.

The Latin American Coalition has also organized Plainfield's first celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Gonzalez has been active in many community organizations, including serving as a commissioner on the Housing Authority of Plainfield. She is currently chairperson of the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA) and served on Mayor Mapp's Transition Task Force.

After years of delayed starts under the previous administration, Mayor Mapp's first parade in 2014 stepped off on time, to the delight of the crowd.

A free concert for the public will be offered at 5:00 PM in Cedar Brook Park. This year's lineup includes Tito Puente, Jr., with a Latin Jazz band, Blue Magic, and vocalist Viola Sykes. Host of the show will be Kenny Williams, with DJ Antione Qua.

Plainfield's celebration of the nation's Independence Day will conclude at dusk with fireworks, also at Cedar Brook Park.
These get under way about 9:25 PM.
 


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Special Council meeting Thursday may take up layoff plan

 

Exercising his authority under Plainfield's special charter, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has called a special meeting of the City Council for this Thursday, June 25, at 7:00 PM in City Hall Library.

The notice published by the City Clerk's office on Monday indicates two items of business --
  • Possible executive session to discuss personnel matters; and
  • Resolution authorizing the submission of a layoff plan to the state
The matter at hand would be the layoff plan for the Bilingual Day Care Center workers.

The Mapp administration is proposing to contract with HOPES, Plainfield's Headstart provider, to transition the program to a new non-city sponsor.

After two hours of public comment and much discussion by the Council this past week, the resolution for the HOPES contract was tabled.

However, since nearly half of Bilingual's enrollees are there as part of the District's free pre-K program, the staffing matters need to be resolved for the District to know what plans -- if any -- to make for the new school year in September.

If the Council shows up and there is a meeting, and if the Council adopts a layoff plan resolution on Thursday, the original timeline will only be disrupted by a week or so.

If the Council snubs the Mayor's call for a special meeting (as it did last month), then all bets are off.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, June 22, 2015

(Mis)adventures with the Courier News


So, what happened to the credit card information?
 

I subscribe to the online version of the Courier News for its Plainfield
news stories. The cost is $12.00 per month, which I figure means I am paying between $4.00 and $6.00 on average for a Plainfield news item.

This, of course, is all arranged by paying online with a credit card.

So several weeks ago, when the bank card I use for this payment was replaced with a new one (because the old one was compromised in some retail chain's hack), I immediately changed the accounts that I regularly used this card to pay for.

That would be Virgin Mobile (my cellphone serice), Amazon and -- tada! -- mycentraljersey.com (otherwise known as the Courier News).

VM and Amazon went without a hitch.

Not so for the Courier. Gannett has to have the crappies, most rinky-dink credit card operation out there.

Where on Amazon, you clearly have a choice to change or add a card, on the Courier's site, you have to hunt for where the creidt card info is supposed to go.

So, I finally find it and change the card to the new number.

We're flying blind by this point -- I get emails confirming the changes from the other two, but not MCJ.

Then, Saturday, an evelope arrives by snail mal from the Courier News billing department in Neptune, NJ: Your payment method was declined.

Going to my online account, I find the above -- with the credit card info wiped out!

So, now I have to call customer service -- wherever they're located -- and try to work it out.

This is the new age?


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Plainfield grads look forward to college


2015 Graduates.
 
The Plainfield school district's three high schools -- Plainfield High, PAAAS, and Barack Obama Academy -- graduated hundreds of seniors this week.

I was struck by the list of colleges those who continue their education will be attending (from a list posted by the District here) --
  • Cairn University
  • Caldwell University
  • Centenary Co llege
  • Drew University
  • Duke University
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University
  • Holy Family University
  • Howard University
  • John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Johnson & Wales University
  • Kean University
  • Lincoln University
  • Messiah College
  • Midland College
  • Montclair State University
  • NJIT
  • New Jersey City University
  • Rowan University
  • Rutgers University
  • College of St. Elizabeth
  • St. Peter's University
  • Syracuse University
  • Temple University
  • Trinitas School of Nursing
  • University of Tampa
  • Virginia State University
  • Wilkes University
A number of graduates will be attending two-year colleges, including Union County, Mercer County, Raritan Valley and Middlesex County, which all offer seamless opportunities to move on to a four-year school after getting an Associate's degree.

Whatever the problems with public schools, we have evidence here that the Plainfield Public Schools are continuing to fulfill public education's historic mission of bringing children to the threshold of adulthood, active citizenship and preparation for a life's work.

Congratulations to all!


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Work begins on Red Cross building


Red Cross office furniture waits in the drizzle to be moved.
 

I noticed on Thursday afternoon that Plainfield's old Red Cross offices at West front and Grove Streets were being cleaned out preparatory to work beginning to turn the long-vacant building into renovated apartments and retail.

The office furniture looked forlorn sitting in the light rain, as workers filled the dumpster on Grove Street.

This is the latest project to join a constant stream of development projects both downtown and along South Avenue.

Plainfield is on the move.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Vigil at Crescent Avenue church for Charleston shooting victims


Participants gathered for a group photo at the Vigil's conclusion.
 

Plainfielders gathered in front of Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church on Friday evening in a "VIgil of Solidarity" to share their grief and sorrow over the shootings of nine church members at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, on Wednesday evening.

Reflections and prayers were offered by many among the forty or so participants, who gathered for a group photo after the service.

Thanks are due to Rev. Lynn Santulli of Crescent Avenue Church and Rev. Tracy Sprowls of the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield (FUSP) for coordinating the vigil.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, June 19, 2015

BREAKING: Solidarity Vigil for Charleston church shooting victims TONIGHT

Invitation to Solidarity Vigil
When: TONIGHT, June 19, 2015, 7:00 pm

Where: In front of the Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church

                                       716 Watchung Avenue

                                        Plainfield, New Jersey

Organized by: Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church and the First Unitarian Church of Plainfield

Information: (908)756-0750

We extend an invitation to the citizens of the Plainfield community and concerned people as we gather tonight for a vigil in solidarity to show our support and pay our condolences to those murdered in Charleston. We stand in solidarity as we gather in the spirit of understanding, healing and prayers for peace.

Sorting out Bilingual Day Care issues


There's a while lot that needs to go into figuring out
who's who and what's what in the Bilingual Day Care story.

Though Plainfield's City Council and the public spent more than two hours discussing the Bilingual Day Care Center at Tuesday's business meeting, the impression was one of more heat than light, when all was said and done.

The future of the Bilingual Day Care Center (BDCC) is a gnarly issue, tangled by groups with differing -- and sometimes conflicting -- agendas, a history of a forward-looking organization overtaken by Plainfield's demographic shift, and the need of 21st century local governments to focus on core services in order to keep tax bloat at bay.

There were several efforts to mobilize residents to come out and discuss the issue -- among them Bilingual Day Care staff and parents, Neighborhood House supporters, supporters of HOPES (the city's Headstart provider), and those responding to a Facebook post by resident -- and candidate for City Council -- Norman Ortega (see here).



Resident -- and City Council candidate -- Norman Ortega
falsely accused the Mapp administration of planning to
close the Bilingual Day Care Center in this Facebook post.
(Click to enlarge or print.)

Let's begin with Mr. Ortega, who is perhaps best known for abandoning his post as a commissioner on the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA). His Facebook post calls people to attend to "prevent the Mapp administration from closing the bilingual daycare" -- something which is simply untrue.

As can be seen from the agenda item, the discussion was about "transitioning" Bilingual to a non-city entity. There is no proposal to close Bilingual Day Care.

(This is not the first time Mr. Ortega has bent the facts to suit his fantasies. Most recently, he accused the Mapp administration of discriminating against Latinos in appointments to the Citizens Budget Advisory Commission, ignoring the fact that the appointments were made by individual councilors, with each naming one person to the CBAC. When a Latina was named by a laggard councilor, he crowed it was a victory over Mapp, but conveniently omitted to mention she is an employee of Assemblyman Jerry Green and could be expected to give him a blow-by-blow report on the committee's deliberations. And there is more, this is just a sample.)

BDCC AND A CHANGING PLAINFIELD

When BDCC was begun in 1977, with the late Paul O'Keeffe as mayor and champion, Plainfield's Latino population was at about 10%. There were no day care facilities offering a bilingual Spanish/English environment. As Councilor Taylor rightly pointed out, BDCC was a trailblazer.

That was then, this is now. Plainfield is well over 40% Latino and heading towards becoming a majority Latino community. Bilingual services to the toddlers and pre-schoolers are now the norm and not the exception.

Under New Jersey's Abbott districts court orders, BDCC has benefited by having about half its children included in that settlement, which, however, has brought complicating management issues of its own.

BDCC continues to make a solid contribution to daycare and early childhood education in Plainfield, but it is no longer the solitary point of light it once was.
DAYCARE IN PLAINFIELD

There are literally scores of daycare providers in Plainfield.

The Plainfield Public Schools lists twenty on its website (see here) that qualify for free daycare under the Abbott District guidelines. The list includes four sites for HOPES, and two for Neighborhood House.

For a more exhaustive list of daycare providers -- most of whom are not part of the Abbott Districts coverage -- see the website of Childcare Centers.US here.
WHO'S WHO IN THE BDCC STORY

Families and Kids. For many families, childcare is a constant worry, and the thought of losing a space because of the closure of a program is a panicky thought. All the more reason to be wary of someone like Norman Ortega, who plays fast and loose with the truth in order to advance what appears to be a personal agenda.

The Bilingual Day Care Center is not in danger of being closed, and Ortega should be ashamed for what he wrote. On the other hand, the parents of children in the program could have been better informed about what is afoot -- especially since it appears the BDCC staff shaded the news with its own perspective on the matter. It is of primary importance that the families who use the program get timely, accurate and relevant information about what is happening.

BDCC Staff. The BDCC staff has a "dog in this fight", so to speak. Their jobs are in play as the program transitions to new sponsorship. This can cause great anxiety and lead to attempts to mobilize the families who use the center as proxies for the staff in the transition discussion.

This could be seen in the way the options for the existing staff were mischaracterized in the public discussion at the Council meeting and in the way that staff disguised their concerns over their own fate and concerns "for the children".

The children will do just fine under a new sponsor. So what else can we be talking about?

Part of the difficulty for staff arises from the hybrid sources of funding and administration. About half BDCC's children are covered by the Abbott Districts settlement which covers everything from required certifications of employees, activities to be provided, salary and wage guidelines and more.

The staff for the half of children not covered by the Abbott Districts ruling do not have the same certification requirements. The wages of the uncertified employees do not square up with those in the daycare field generally (they are much more generous), providing an incentive to balk at any proposed changes in the situation.

What would be more helpful would be for the BDCC employees to acknowledge their conflicts here and be more straightforward in the discussions.

It is just possible that the way they have gone about it has soured the Mapp administration on making any effort at smoothing the way for staffers.

Daycare Providers. The Mapp administration is proposing to transition the BDCC by hiring HOPES to manage the process, projected to take up to two school years.

At last week's agenda-setting session, Neighborhood House executive director Carol Presley sharply criticized the plan, saying it was unfair to give the contract to an "outsider" organization.

That language was used when ho HOPES representative was in the room. Presley changed her tune considerably this past week, with a HOPES vice president in attendance. Now, Presley says, she is only concerned that there be an RFP process and that any interested and qualified organization can make a pitch for the contract.

Councilor Taylor had high praise for HOPES -- perhaps because she knows of them from another context (she did not say) -- but attempted to waffle by throwing a few rose in the direction of Neighborhood House also (saying "they have been around forever").

One thing can be said with certainty if the city decides to issue an RFP: the price will go up, perhaps astronomically. And that is because each organization's response to the RFP will attempt to cover every possible contingency -- all with an associated cost -- thereby inflating the final price and leaving the City (and the Council too, as they have to ratify any deal) to choose between several overpriced alternatives.

Taxpayers. Lost in the shuffle are Plainfield's poor, longsuffering taxpayers, who are currently shelling out in excess of $140,000 to cover BDCC overhead in excess of grants and reimbursements.

The Mapp administration is trying to look out for all the parties involved, but -- most challengingly -- to keep the taxpayers from getting the short end of the stick.

WHAT IS FAIR?

BDCC employees made a pitch for what they see as "fair" in their remarks before the Council. As they see it, the BDCC employees should decide on the entity to manage the transition.

What is "fair" depends on your viewpoint.

But we also have to ask: Whose responsibility is it, by law, to make the decisions here?

Truth of the matter: It is the Mapp administration's responsibility to come up with a workable plan of transition -- no one, including employees or parents, is denying their needs to be one -- to which the Council will assent.

The Council, in its wisdom, tabled the resolution last Tuesday. This will give the Mapp administration an opportunity to try to build a consensus on going forward,

But, as Administration & Finance Director Ron West pointed out, the delay will have a ripple effect, leaving the Plainfield School District scrambling with what to do before September, and with implementation of the transition plan shove back to October or November.
Meanwhile, the taxpayers have yet to weigh in. Perhaps the Council should assume they don't care?


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Thursday, June 18, 2015

More turkey sightings


Tom, here strutting his stuff, chased one too many joggers.


Three hens enjoy basking in the sun.
 

Plainfield Today reader Cynthia Alexander sends along some snaps of four turkeys, including a Tom, who decided they liked hanging out on her kitchen porch. This is in response to yesterday's post on a turkey sighting in Library Park (see here).

She says that though she never fed them, they often gathered on the fence. She also said the Tom was aggressive and liked to chase people who passed her Prospect Avenue home.

Sadly, she says, Tom met his end when he chased a jogger and was hit and killed by a car on Kensington Avenue.



  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wild turkey sighted in Library Park


Wild turkey hen taking a stroll in Library Park.

Coming back from the pharmacy shortly after noon Wednesday, I was surprised to see a wild turkey hen near the Plainfield
Public Library.

She had crossed Arlington Avenue at West 9th Street and strolled nonchalantly into the park toward the fountain, stopping to peck at the grass occasionally. She seemed undeterred by either passing traffic or people walking and sitting in the park.

Though I have seen turkeys many times above Woodland Avenue and along Rahway Road, this is the first I can recall seeing any this far into town. For more about wild turkeys, see here.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rumble over Bilingual Day Care fate tonight?


Looks like a tussle developing over who will take over
for Bilingual Day Care.
 

Though getting Plainfield ouf ot the daycare business has been discussed by several administrations over many years, the Mapp administration is the first to come within sight of the finish line.

Plainfield
City Council will take up several resolutions at tonight's business meeting that deal with winding down the Bilingual Day Care center on West 2nd Street and transferring the operations to another entity.

The most important are R214-15, which would transition the program to HOPES, which is the agency that manages the city's Headstart programs, and R220-15, the submission of a layoff plan for the current Bilingual Day Care staff. The plan would need to be approved by the state and would go into effect 45 days after approval is granted.

Neighborhood House's executive director, Carol Presley, addressed the Council at last week's agenda-setting session. Her main points were that the city should not transfer the program to "outsiders" (HOPES is headquartered in Hoboken), and Neighborhood House would have new classrooms "in October".

Word in the street is that Presley is mobilizing a crowd to attend tonight's meeting to press for her proposal.

Presley is claiming that Neighorhood House will have four new classrooms in the apartment complex being built behind the old Senior Center on East Front Street and that the building will be "ready for occupancy in October".

I doubt it. Driving by the site, one can see that only the slab for the main floor has been poured. Based on other recent projects of similar size in Plainfield -- especially the Monarch condos, which is quite similar -- it is not likely the building will be ready that soon.

And the credibility of Presley's position rests on being able to put the cildren from Bilingual Day Care into classrooms that Neighborhood House does not currently have.

Expect an animated discussion on the topic tonight.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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