Members of DAV Chapter 22, serving 312 members in Belleville and Nutley, broke ground for a new building on Mill Street on Saturday morning.
"The township has been very helpful," said DAV spokesman Joseph T. Fornarotto. The project, four years in the making, received full cooperation from Belleville council members, he said.
The invocation was led by Rev. Mark A. O'Connell of St. Peter Roman Catholic Church, Belleville.
Congressman William Pascrell Jr. (D-8th) joined Fornarotto and the pair donned gold-painted hardhats and pitched the first shovelfuls of soil.
World War II Paratrooper William Falduti of Nutley was on hand to support the building project.
Also on hand for the ceremony were Belleville Councilman Steve Rovell, Nutley Commissioners Carmen Orechio and Tom Evans, and former Nutley Mayor and Commissioner John V. Kelly.
Pointing to the Belleville Senior Citizens building down the hill on Mill Street, Fornarotto reminded the crowd that building was built for $90,000 by veterans who volunteered their skills. He called on veterans again, calling for construction workers, laborers, masons, electricians and carpenters to step forward and make this new building a reality.
Fornarotto said the DAV chapter would soon add in members from Kearny and increase its ranks to more than 500 members.
When the DAV building is not being used for veterans, Fornarotto said it would be available for local civic and service groups.
Fornarotto said construction would begin after the final permits are okayed.
The patch of town property on Mill Street is set between an apartment building and the Second River.
Local permits are set, however the group needs a state okay and soil permits because of its proximity to the river which flows through Belleville Park and Branch Brook Park along Mill Street.
Local architect Robert Cozzarelli drew up the plans for the building.
The former headquarters on Washington Avenue was sold after becoming too cumbersome for the disabled members.
Former Belleville Mayor and Councilman James Messina, now of the Belleville Public Works Dept. worked up the estimates on building materials that need to be ordered for the building.
"We're ready to dig," Messina said, pointing to the back hoe behind the rows of people gathered for the ceremony.
Messina, who grew up a few blocks from the site, recalled as a kid rafting in the Second River from behind the former Red Yeast factory to the concrete dam that had been located alongside new building site.
The dam was removed years ago to relieve flooding upriver in Bloomfield. As it runs through the park, the Second River has steep concrete walls which tend to fill to the brim when the rains and winter runoff run heavy.
The Belleville-Nutley DAV Chapter 22 established the memorial on Union Avenue in Belleville.
Fornarotta, a Navy Machinist Mate 3rd Class, quit Essex County Vocational School to fight in World War II. In November 2000, Governor Christie Whitman awarded high school diplomas through the "Operation Recognition" program to Fornarotto and more than 80 New Jersey World War II veterans at a graduation ceremony at the War Memorial in Trenton.
Copyright © 2007 Anthony Buccino. All rights reserved.