The trailers behind the Cranford Municipal Building serve as a constant reminder of the damage that Hurricane Irene left in its wake. But township officials are devising plans to make sure the trailers don't become permanent office space for the displaced employess whose offices were destroyed by the flood.
During a special meeting on Dec. 5, members of the Municipal Building Task Force presented officials with three options for the remediation of the municipal building as a result of the flooding, which damaged the entire lower level of the 50-year-old structure on Springfield Avenue.
"Well, it's not all bad news," Task Force Chairman Paul LaCorte said during the meeting.
LaCorte and the Task Force met several times over the past nine weeks to hammer out options that range from restoring the lower level of town hall, to the addition of a completely new floor above the building.
"The building sustained severe damage from Hurricane Irene, primarily the first floor," LaCorte said. "The building also suffered for the past 25-30 years from deferred maintenance."
The deferred maintenance, he said, primarily includes necessary upgrades to the HVAC system.
"Although Irene took out the first floor, this is an opportunity for the township and the community at large to refurbish as much of the building as they care to," LaCorte added.
The three plans devised by the Task Force range in cost from approximately $3.1 million to more than $11 million, depending on the scope of the project. LaCorte stressed that the dollar amounts are extremely preliminary and are based on an estimate of $200 per square foot, which is a standard used by contractors when a very rough estimate is needed for such a job.
The first plan, which comes with the lowest cost estimate, involves the total renovation of the basement - or lower level - of the municipal building, as well as a plan to elevate the courtroom by 20 inches. The offices that have been relocated to the trailers would then be returned to the lower floor of the building. Officials expressed concern that this plan would remediate the problems caused by the hurricane, but if future flooding occurs, the township will once again be faced with the need to restore the building.
The second plan devised by the Task Force has a tentative price tag of about $6 million to $8 million. It would include the relocation of the TV35 studio - which is temporarily housed in one of the trailers behind the building. The creation of a police radio room and the construction of a 6,000-square-foot addition to the building and a new elevator are also part of the second proposal.
The third plan, which comes with the highest cost estimate, would involve completely removing offices from the lower level of the building and leaving it empty with the exception of meeting rooms that could easily be pumped out if another flood occurs. This plan would also involve building an addition onto the top floor of the building. The upper floor of town hall was designed so that an additional level could be added above it, if the need ever arose.
"It represents a more permanent solution," LaCorte said, adding his opinion that the township should be aggressive in the way it handles the renovations and future flood prevention at town hall. "Not to do the very best in terms of upgrading the building is....a waste of money," he said. Before a decision is made, the township, LaCorte suggested, should contact architectural firms that will come in and identify the problems, and the steps that need to be followed to get the project under way.
In addition to structural improvements, the third plan for the restoration of the municipal building would also include technology upgrades to the aging building, which officials say "still has 50-year-old technology."
, who is serving as the acting township administrator, said the town is still working with the insurance company to file claims for the damages to the building. The next step to obtain additional funding for whatever project is selected will involve having FEMA conduct a a cost benefit analysis. FEMA will then determine if, and how much, funding they will provide for the project, according to Police Lt. James Wozniak, who also worked closed with the Task Force.
Mason stated that FEMA representatives have repeatedly pointed out that municipalities should move forward with necessary improvement projects regardless of whether or not the FEMA application process has been completed.
"The driving factor shouldn't be FEMA funding," Mason said, adding that the federal agency has indicated that the best interests of the town should take precedence over whether or not funding will be made available.
"I think it's very important that when we move forward with making a decision...what's best for the town and keeping essential services going is what needs to be at the forefront," Wozniak added.
Mason also pointed out that even if the township decides to move forward with the third proposal, there is no guarantee that FEMA will reimburse the town.
The majority of township officials seemed to favor the third proposal for restoration of the building. Others, including Commissioner-elect Lisa Adubato Nesi, favored a hybrid of the second and third proposals. Mayor Daniel Aschenbach said he believes what residents are hoping to see is "better utilization of the building, not just renovation or expansion."
The Task Force, officials said, will continue to meet and discuss the proposals. LaCorte suggested that the Township Committee moves forward with hiring an arhitectural firm to discuss the three options before deciding on which plan to consider.