According to Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, contracts worth $950,000 were awarded to two construction firms in order to begin the major renovations to Town Hall, which will receive its first major overhaul since its construction in 1928.
"It's a very different building, with four levels on one side and two on another," Turner said.
Turner said they had to find a central location on the north side of the building for the new handicap elevator, which would give wheelchair bound people access to a majority of the floors.
While Turner said that Town Hall has been compliant with the federal ADA regulations, in reality, handicapped people were never able to access to the township's main offices. Anyone who was wheelchair-bound had to make arrangements to meet with township officials on the northern side of the structure, where there is an access ramp.
Now, after the renovations are completed later this year, people with disabilities can take the elevator to the floors higher than street level.
New elevator and renovations
The improvements will also include a major overhaul of the township's police headquarters, including new communication systems, a new modernized front desk area, as well as new locker rooms and bathroom facilities.
There will also be new handicapped access bathrooms placed on the third floor of the building as well.
"We had different options," Turner said. "We could have built an annex to Town Hall, but that would have been very expensive and we really didn't have the area to do so. We also could have put a video link in an office on the first floor that would have given handicapped people the access to speak to someone and to participate in meetings. But we also needed to have these people have access to township records as well, so we decided to go with the elevator."
The elevator will be able to ascend to three of the building's four floors, including access to the council chambers, which never had ADA access before. There will also be new access to the Violations Bureau and Municipal Court, as well as renovations to the Town Clerk's office.
The work is slated to begin August 16 and for the work to be done properly, Town Hall has to be completely shutdown for a period of three weeks, maybe longer.
"With all the dust and debris that happens with the demolition, it would have been very difficult to continue to work there," Turner said. "There would have been health issues to consider. So we're going to relocate our appropriate offices to temporary locations throughout the town. Town Hall will be entirely shut. The police department will operate out of trailers and all of the other offices will be located in other areas."
Turner said that the biggest obstacle is relocating the Municipal Court and Violations Bureau for the period of the demolition.
"We do have a lot of outside offices in our other buildings, like the community center, the library, the schools and the Housing Authority buildings [on Potter Place and Gregory Avenue]," Turner said. "So we will use them for the time being."
Turner said that the demolition and improvements should be done by the end of the year.
"Unfortunately, with an old building, once you start doing demolition work, you never know what you may find," Turner said. "So it may take longer. Once the demolition work is done, we can move back in while the work is being completed. But it's a very long process."
Turner said that township residents will be advised as to where the local agencies will be relocated for the period of construction.
Turner said that the next phase of the Town Hall renovations will be a new roof, at the cost of $750,000, but that will not take place until the spring of 2008. Another $500,000 has been earmarked for other cosmetic improvements to the building.
In other news coming from the meeting, the township passed a resolution that will call for a state grant application, because the township's recycling rate is at 60-to-65 percent, way above the state average.
The township also approved temporary budget appropriations until the township's municipal fiscal budget is introduced in September. Turner said that the delay in presenting and adopting a budget for 2007-08 is because the totals for state aid money have not been released by the State Department of Community Affairs.
The township also authorized the bid process for landscaping services at the township's new waterfront recreational park that should be completed and totally open by September.
The township also announced that it is "making progress" towards the renovations of a private home on Hamilton Avenue that has turned into an eyesore. The home is owned by a resident of Japan who has not maintained the home properly over the last three years.
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or email@example.com