The township is set to manage a trio of major construction projects in the next few years that will radically transform its municipal and recreational campuses.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 15, 2022
Throughout his upbringing in Pennsauken, Township Administrator Tim Killion remembers regular discussions about creating a community center in the township.
And since his election to the municipal government, Killion began working with his fellow council members to explore ways to make that vision a reality.
Thanks to an influx of state and federal cash, the township suddenly has an opportunity to do just that.
Pennsauken, which was among the Camden County towns hardest hit by the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, won a $10 million local grant from the federal Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program, as well as a $5 million legislative grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).
The township will devote that $15 million to the construction of a 25,000-square-foot, two-story community center that will integrate into the municipal recreational complex off Westfield Avenue.
“Without the support from the state, and the recognition that a town our size needs something like this, it doesn’t happen,” Killion said. “It’s absolutely huge for our township and for our residents.”
The project will not only provide Pennsauken residents with a place to gather, but it will also function as a hub for important initiatives, from public health to community programming. It’s the kind of facility that the township would have used for COVID-19 testing — instead of its fire stations and municipal parking lot — had it been available during the pandemic.
“In 2020, we realized that if we wanted to be able to help the community, we really had limited options to send someone somewhere in a crisis,” Killion said. “That really solidified for us to get to work on this.
“We have about 35,000 residents and that’s not including the businesses here,” he said. “If there’s a health crisis, we don’t want to be unprepared. We don’t want to be in a situation where it’s more difficult to get information out to people.”
Pennsauken Mayor Jessica Rafeh said that building a community center is “the first thing people told me they want” during her election campaign.
“This is an exciting thing for Pennsauken,” Rafeh said.
“Community centers bring people together, and they offer residents a lot of great things.
“It’s just not geared for one age; this is going to be a spot for everything.”
The community center will include an outdoor amphitheater, an onsite café, basketball and pickleball courts, and multi-purpose rooms that can be used for education, party rentals, or similar needs.
Some of the spaces will feature indoor and outdoor flexibility to allow for different seasonal uses.
Pennsauken has contracted with SSP Architects of Somerville for the design work, and will bid the remainder of the project in the coming months. The build-out isn’t expected to be completed before 2025.
At the same time as the community center project is underway, Pennsauken will also be undertaking a $28-million redevelopment project at its municipal complex on Route 130. The township will redesign its public library and incorporate the new structure into a combined building that will also house a new municipal government complex. RSC Architects of Hackensack has been contracted to design the new library.
That project is supported in part by $9 million in NJ Library Construction Bond Act funds; the remainder will be handled through municipal bonding. The new facility will be constructed concurrently with the community center project, and will free up the current municipal building for additional redevelopment. The old library will be demolished to make room for parking at the new facility.
Killion believes it could open the door for some mixed-use development or private construction of additional residential units on the 23-acre parcel.
“We want to make sure that we’re providing resources for our residents that are going to make their lives easier and connect the community more and more,” he said.
“These buildings are an example of that, but they’re going to be the actual physical representation of us providing to the community what we need as we go into the coming decades.
“Our library and municipal building are 60-70 years old; a community center, we never had,” Killion said. “It’s a generational asset for Pennsauken and our residents.”
“We’re all really super-excited because everything we’re building is what the residents need, and every building is going to offer something,” Rafeh said. “Everybody has different visions; when we put them together and mix them, we get a great project.”
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