By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
LONGPORT – After borough officials learned repairing HVAC and remediating mold issues at Borough Hall could cost more than $500,000, residents suggested the building should be replaced, according to Commissioner Jim Leeds.
Leeds brought the issue to light during the Nov. 22 Board of Commissioners meeting. Mayor Nicholas Russo was not in attendance.
“We as commissioners, staff and department heads should think about, between now and next workshop, about the future of 2305 (Atlantic Avenue),” Leeds said. “Do we continue to proceed the way we have been or replace the building?”
Leeds said he received feedback from residents on what to do about the nearly 100-year-old brick structure and incurring unexpected costs to keep it operational.
“People are saying, why spend anymore?” he said.
Engineer Richard Carter said that in 2010, the borough made a commitment to keep the building because of its historical nature. However, the borough has since spent $2.8 million repairing HVAC and making other upgrades to the building.
According to Administrator Scott Porter, in addition to remediating the mold that quickly developed in Commission Chambers at ground level and in the Centennial Room on the second floor after a power outage one weekend in August, there are asbestos tiles under the worn carpeting in both rooms that must be safely removed during the mold remediation process. The Centennial Room currently has no heating and ventilation system, and the HVAC in other parts of the building is nearing the end of its shelf life.
The Police Department has been evicted from the moldy area and is operating out of a construction trailer in the Police Department parking lot.
“Now we have a small amount of water intrusion in the brick,” Porter said. “When you start looking at all these different issues and identify what needs to be done, costs just continue to rise. Are we at the point where we should consider a new building or continue renovating the building?”
He suggested setting up a long-term planning committee to discuss a 5-10-15-year plan for the building that would incorporate new regulations in store for the Police and Public Works departments.
“Maybe we can focus all the energy to coordinate and prepare for events, to avoid hiccups where have to do these sudden repairs that can be quite expensive,” Porter said.
Carter said there are new FEMA regulations for police and fire department facilities that must be considered, and the Library Board has indicated it would like to expand the library space.
“The problem here is that the building is at or below the floodplain,” Carter said.
A study commission could take up to two years to review borough facilities, but employees need to keep working in a safe environment, he said.
Solicitor Pacifico “Pat” Agnellini said a planning committee would be “well worth it.”
“The question you have to ask yourself is, what does the borough look like in 5-10 years. What does the Fire Department look like in five years?” he said.
If the borough built a new town center 10 years ago, it would have built a courtroom, he said.
“You wouldn’t build a courtroom today,” Agnellini said.
It will be a difficult decision to reach, he said, because regulations are rapidly changing.
“The best thing to do would be to tear down and rebuild, in my opinion. The problem is, what do you rebuild? What services will the borough still be performing 10-20 years from now that hasn’t been consolidated with other municipalities?” he said.
Lawler said although the former Betty Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital is large three-story structure, there is a lot of wasted space.
Part of Longport’s problem is that while new, larger homes are on the rise, there is no available land on which to build a new facility.
Leeds suggested reviewing what other municipalities in need of rebuilding have done or hiring a consultant to survey the building and “come up with a realistic replacement cost.”
“It’s up to all of us, including the community, to think about it,” Leeds said.
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