New Municipal Building Taking Shape
Several months of work to go before move completed
As she walks through the halls of the new municipal building Township Manager Helene Schlegel can see what the finished product will look like once the work is completed and the building becomes their official home.
Last week Schlegel and the administration moved into the section of the building that has been completed to directly oversee the remainder of the project. "We're getting there," she said.
Since the moving trucks brought them from Preventorium Rd. to Route 9 Schlegel said it has been business as usual as they get used to their new home.
In her new office Schlegel said the building formerly known as the Global Building has a decidedly and intentionally different feel from the older Town Hall. "Besides just being here overseeing the progress and making sure the whole project goes as planned, we're trying to create a more professional atmosphere," she said.
There is no question the new building is different from the previous municipal buildings in the past, but Schlegel said that is not a bad thing. "Change is good when it's done for a positive reason and positive results come out of it," she said. "I really believe that positive results are going to come out of this."
From now through the end of the move the manager said residents will see why the move will be beneficial to them. "I think the residents are going to see more effective and efficient processes and I just think it's going to work out."
What will be the new meeting room for council meetings is still coming together but Schlegel said the design has been completed and will seat close to 100 residents which is more than the current room holds.
Another big change that the extra space provides is the establishment of a full time Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Since it was first utilized the EOC has not had a permanent home which meant taking time to set it up in emergency situations like blizzards and hurricanes. "Any disaster, any emergency we'll be ready to turn it on and go," she said. The room will have spots for the state and municipal police as well as other first responder groups.
The new building will also have considerably more security than the current facility including proximity cards for employees to access certain areas and giving residents places to fill out any needed paperwork including OPRA requests and permits.
Schlegel said in addition to the improved facilities there will also be improvements and better efficiencies for the employees. A room which she described as something of a law library will save the township money. "Because everything was kind of separate everyone was ordering their own legal books," she said. "Instead of ordering 15 different books we'll order one set and they'll stay here."
Another unique aspect of the new building is that while the township takes up the second floor the first floor is being used by tenants. Schelgel said 85 percent of the downstairs space has been rented out but that amount could increase as some of the tenants consider expanding their space. "We're not really looking for anything else," she said.
As the work continues Schlegel said most of the major contracts have been awarded which will help move the process forward. As much as possible, she said the work is being done by township employees.
Things like sheet rock and painting have been done by employees of the Department of Public Works, but Schlegel said they are also balancing that with their regular responsibilities. "Its been tough and we've only taken a small group and they've been trying to do as much as they can do," she said. "Of course they can't necessarily give all their time to this."
Even the bigger projects like the replacement of the HVAC system will end up saving the taxpayers money according to Schlegel. The new system will work off of the proximity cards which will allow the system to operate only in certain quadrants depending on when people are in the building. "We won't be heating and air conditioning the whole building unless it's necessary."
Over the next few months Schlegel said the work will continue as they look to bring more employees into the new building. She said some of the priorities are Howell Fire Bureau and the engineering building. In the past few weeks the Monmouth County Freeholders authorized the purchase of engineering building to be added to the Howell Park golf club. Schelgel said that sale should be completed in the next few months.
Councilman Robert Nicastro said there has been a considerable amount of work done and still more to do before the process concludes. "I don't think anyone thought it was going to take as much work going into this project but we are upgrading the building not only for today but for the future," he said. "We are succeeding in making changes that are cost effective and making the town hall nice."
Deputy Mayor William Gotto said he believes the end result will be worth the time and effort that was put into making this project a reality. "The bigger impact is what the overall operation is going to look like and how everything is going to be laid out," he said. "We knew we had to replace the buildings but how much it was going to change the impact of how we do everything in municipal government can be seen now."
The goal going forward is to make the rest of the transition as smooth as possible according to Schlegel. She said by September the full move should be complete and the municipal building should be up and running at full force.
With the windows in her office overlooking the Route 9 corridor Schlegel said she believes the accessibility to residents will also be beneficial. "I would imagine that more residents would be more aware of this location," she said. "I think there are a lot of residents in town who don't even know where Town Hall is."
She said she hopes by the time the work is done residents will be pleased with what is now available to them. "I'm kind of excited and I want everyone else to be excited," she said.
Even with the excitement Schlegel said she knows there will be some residents who will miss the old building when the administration moves out. Despite that, she said she firmly believes the new building will better serve the township in the 21st century and beyond. "This is a $45 million business. I think we need to remember that," she said. "We need to project that and we need to remember that we serve the community and we want to do it in the best possible way that we can do it."
The new building, she said will accomplish that. "I think this gives us the opportunity to really maximize our resources." It also, she said, might change the way residents and people outside the town perceive the township. "I think that you might lose a little of the small town feel but the truth of the matter is, we're not a small town so now we are what we are."
While the move may not be completed until September, Schlegel said there is a chance that municipal meetings could be moved to the new building before all the work is done.
See previous pictures from the project here.