An ad hoc Courthouse Selection Committee evaluated various proposals and determined that although Rafael Vinoly Architects was not the lowest bidder, the firm provided the most services. These include developing master planning for the new site, and a basic design and site assessment.
Freeholder Chair Anthony Vainieri said demolition of buildings along Newark Avenue across from the existing courthouse will take place as soon as the county gets the permits needed from Jersey City.
This move prepares the county for the next stage, said Deputy County Administrator David Drumeler, which will include development of building plans and construction.
Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso, who has been pushing for the development of a new courthouse for years, praised the freeholders for the move, citing problems in the existing courthouse.
“There’s water around people’s desks,” he said. “I would love for the project to move ahead with rabbit speed, but I’ll settle for a turtle’s pace as long as it keeps moving ahead.”
Judge Bariso was concerned that acquisition of the land would become unaffordable as new luxury development started in the Journal Square area.
“I would love for the project to move ahead with rabbit speed, but I’ll settle for a turtle’s pace as long as it keeps moving ahead.” – Judge Peter Bariso
The freeholders have been debating a new courthouse complex for more than a decade to replace the County Administration Building at 595 Newark Ave. The building was constructed in the 1960s but has had massive and costly problems over the last 20 years.
Over the last two years, the county began purchasing the property needed. The county purchased the last piece from Jersey City late last year.
The existing administration building, constructed in the 1960s, contains state and county courtrooms, the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, and other county offices. The new building would contain mostly courtrooms.
County officials were notified about the problems at 595 Newark Ave. more than 25 years ago. Now the cost is nearly 10 times what the county originally estimated. A 1988 study done by the National Center for State Courts showed that the administration building was “functionally unsatisfactory in terms of circulation, structural, and environmental systems.”
As part of this project, the county will also realign several local streets that will allow Central Avenue – which currently stops near the Route 139 overpass – to connect with Newark Avenue.
Drumeler said contractors will do asbestos abatement and then demolish the existing buildings.
“Then we’ll move into the design phase,” he said.
The master planning is expected to take about 17 months to complete.
“This is a very similar process as the one done for the new Schools of Technology building (in Secaucus,)” he said.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea, a member of the ad hoc committee, said it was an exhausting process.
“While the bidder cost more, it had more to offer,” O’Dea said. “We’re designing a building to serve the people of Hudson County for years to come. We want to get it right.”
The existing courthouse will likely be demolished later and the property sold off to a developer to help cover the cost of constructing the new complex, officials said.
Judge Bariso has been very vocal about the problems in the existing building that include inadequate heat and air-conditioning, lack of space for court operations, elevators that are regularly in disrepair, antiquated electrical systems that require the county to seek parts from junkyards to repair, a building façade that is crumbling, leaky windows, a ground floor garage that regularly floods, and a drainage system that sometimes results in human waste backing up out of toilets.
A recent evaluation also showed that there were security problems due to the odd layout of the building.
Originally estimated at a cost of between $150 to $170 million, the eventual price tag for the new courthouse could be as much as $345 million.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.