By Liza Viana, Township Administrator
This town is abuzz with construction activity, and our new municipal complex is at the center of it all!
I have no doubt that everyone who has had a hand in bringing this complex to fruition - from the very beginning planning stages through now - had nothing but good intentions and the goal of offering our residents the best services they could in a facility they deserve, at top of mind as they have made hard decisions on how to proceed. I came into this job when Mayor Devanney was elected - in January 2019 - and from Day 1, we have been laser focused on this. We inherited an immense project, and were ready to take on the challenge and continue the hard work. And I thank everyone who paved the way to where we are today.
This municipal complex will house not only our administrative buildings, engineering and construction offices, police department and new Council chambers, but it also will offer meeting rooms for community use, a brand new library, recreation center, senior citizen offices and large multi-purpose rooms. Finally - with the exception of our offsite wastewater treatment plant and Department of Public Works, the latter of which will be directly adjacent to the new complex - all the main components of our municipal government family will be under one roof.
We have documented and told the story of challenges this building has faced, from asbestos in 2018 to the adding of a very necessary underslab drainage system, to an extremely rainy winter and spring that led to many construction vehicles having to be pulled out of the mud. We will continue to lay out facts and project history details on the Municipal Complex page of our Township website; we are now adding weekly videos, as well.
Meanwhile, here are some facts relating to the municipal complex project ...
- A new building for staff but also for our residents was desperately needed. Our current building is falling apart at the seams. I silently thank our wonderful staff and personnel every day for sticking with us working in these buildings, which wouldn’t even be considered subpar by most municipal standards. The Police headquarters in particular are simply unacceptable.
- We now have a firm plan to pay down the debt. The $10.5 million we are getting from Toll Brothers will go directly to helping us pay off this debt. We also have done/are doing the following to help offset/pay off this debt:
- Actively seeking 0% interest loans from the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank for more capital projects involving our sewer system;
- Scrutinized the debt and put into place and effective debt management plan;
- Encouraging our department heads to work on six-year capital plans - this allows us to achieve more accurate planning for expected expenses;
- Applying and using grants whenever possible, and budgeting for them appropriately;
- Working with our department heads on better future budgeting practices, controlling our expenses and attempting to build up our reserves whenever possible;
- Like any homeowner with a mortgage, we exercised the benefit of historically low municipal note rates with two note sales on June 23; we received extremely desirable rates and the premiums from both notes will go directly to debt service related to the muni complex.
- As the enormity of the soil issues was realized, we knew we needed to save money. In the past 20 months, the Township has realized cost savings such as the following:
- Drying out wet dirt so that it can later be reused as backfill;
- Cutting our initial IT/AV budget by $700,000;
- Cutting down the furniture order by at least $100,000;
- Purchasing some furniture such as shelving from retail stores at cheaper rates;
- Taking our current filing cabinets and some furniture with us instead of buying all new;
- Adding the senior citizen kitchen cupboards, fridge and other items ourselves - this room and amenities were not included in the original plans;
- Putting one of the unusable dirt stockpiles off site out to bid for removal instead of having Epic remove it;
- Working with New Jersey American Water to avoid adding a second large hotbox to the property and coming up with a less expensive alternative;
- and more.
This project is very much about relationships. Toward the beginning of 2020, the Township needed to work intensely with Epic, the developer (and the developer with its subcontractors) to figure out exactly how much more time was needed to finish the project. Simply defaulting Epic likely would have caused a halt to the entire job - it would not have gotten things moving faster. In order to have a firmer grasp of realistic timelines and costs, we started conversations about delay claims and liquidated damages - two major issues that do not typically get sorted out until the end of these construction projects.
From biweekly meetings with all essential stakeholders on the job, to weekly meetings with Mast, to multiple calls/emails almost daily for the past 18 months, to key one-on-one meetings with the heads of Mast and EPIC, to working with our inspectors, and, facilitating working group meetings between our department heads and various subcontractors, to scrimping for every penny for the Township - this project is being overseen by this administration day to day, every step of the way.
We eat, breathe and sleep this project. Meanwhile, the Administration and Council has been keeping seven redevelopment projects moving, managing the local impact of COVID-19 and ensuring we had a 0% municipal tax increase to help offset residents’ the pandemic’s potential financial impact on our residents, helping our local businesses get back on their feet, overseeing our personnel and budget, working with our CFO and other department heads to create additional revenue streams to put our Township on more secure financial footing, and more - every.single.day.
Click here to watch TAPinto Berkeley Heights’ weekly "Catchup With Mayor Devanney," in which she talks about progress being made on the municipal complex
The Township will award bids for several road projects in September:
- 2020 NJ DOT grant - Greenbriar, Ferndale, Hastings
- 2020 Union County Infrastructure Trust grant - Lincoln, Plainfield section on the North side of Springfield Ave
- Commuter parking lot at NJ Transit train station
In October, the Township plans to award the bid for the project including milling, paving, drainage, curbing and sidewalks for Fairfax Drive; milling, paving and spot curb work on Windsor; Tudor plus some sidewalk work; and Cottage Street.
‘No Knock List’
Anyone who owns or rents property within Berkeley Heights can now sign up for their residence to be included on the Township’s “No Knock” list. Signup is available online at the clerk’s office page on the Township website at no charge. The Township Council recently joined the growing number of NJ towns establishing a ‘No Knock’ list, amending its existing ordinance regarding licenses for peddlers, solicitors and canvassers.
Don’t Miss the News!
With the tremendous help of our all-volunteer Communications Committee, we have multiple ways of getting news out to residents: website alerts you can receive via text and/or email, Facebook, Instagram, and e-newsletters. I am thankful every day for all of the help they give us. Please sign up for the website alerts at BerkeleyHeights.gov/Signup so news comes directly to you.
In addition, our new Smart911 notification system provides targeted location-based alerts from the Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and Township of Berkeley Heights. Download the Smart911 app on your phone or sign up via the Smart911 website to receive key information needed in an emergency. Residents can also sign up to receive phone messages from Mayor Devanney during the COVID-19 health pandemic or during other local emergencies
Questions, comments or concerns? Please feel free to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please stay safe everyone! We are all in this COVID-19 era together; and we will pull through stronger because of it!