MIDDLETOWN — There is a reprieve for the Middletown Swim Club.
The club, located at 214 Harmony Road, off of State Highway 35, will continue to operate for the coming summer, without the tennis courts, and not under the township’s management.
Anthony Mercantante, the township administrator, said last week that township officials have struck a deal with a not-for-profit junior hockey group to lease the swim club for the coming season, commencing Memorial Day weekend.
The group, New Jersey Junior Titan Hockey Team, in addition to running the club this summer, is expected to acquire the site and use the location for a hockey rink, to be constructed on the site in the future, along with continuing to maintain the swim club.
“We were able to negotiate an arrangement,” Mercantante said last Thursday. “They were interested in building an ice arena and there is room on the property to do it.”
The township committee last Monday introduced an ordinance that when approved at the April 16 meeting would have the Titans pay the township $225,000 for this year. When the group closes on the property in the near future, it will pay the township $1.37 million.
This year’s payment would cover the debt service for this year on the township’s bond. The $1.37 million would pay for the outstanding balance the township owes on the bond to acquire the facility, according to Mercantante.
“Almost immediately they’re going to take complete operations,” Mercantante said.
The New Jersey Junior Titans program, geared for younger players, currently operates a facility in Howell. George Haviland, a longtime Middletown resident, heads the Titans group looking to purchase the local club, according to Mercantante.
This announcement elicited a sigh of relief from those pool club members who lobbied the township committee to continue to operate the facility. The governing body was unwavering in its decision to get out of that business as the club failed to meet the township’s financial expectations.
Mayor Anthony Fiore and the four other township committee members announced their plans to sell off the nine-acre club property, because of declining membership and falling revenue, on top of a need for significant capital improvements to upgrade the facility and to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Officials said they could no longer justify operating the facility, especially at the expense of the taxpayers.
The announcement brought out a considerable number of club members who implored the governing body to reconsider its decision.
The township committee said it couldn’t, but would stipulate that if the location were sold at auction, as had been proposed, it would have to remain for some sort of recreational use.
This arrangement, Mercantante said, fits the bill. The Titans will do away with the tennis courts on the property and eventually construct an ice skating arena. The buyers were “going to do some cosmetic improvements to the buildings and facilities for this year,” Mercantante said, “and for the coming years they’ll look to do more capital projects,” including everything to bring the facility up to code.
And the location under this ownership, would have to continue these uses, or the property would revert back to township ownership, according to the administrator.
Susan Weiss, a Locust resident and longtime member of the pool club and member of Save our Swim Club Committee, which had been lobbying to keep the club open, expressed her relief and joy at the prospect of another summer there.
“They are promising big, good things,” Weiss said of Haviland and his group. “And I’m excited about it because this pool is a really important part of the town.”
About 12-13 different entities expressed interest in the location. But given Haviland’s group is a not-for-profit. That allowed township officials to act quickly to award the contract and ensure there would be available for this summer, Mercantante said.
The township is taking membership applications through the town’s Web site.
Haviland did not return a call seeking comment.