Newton rejects designation for mansion
Council votes 3-2 against measure
By Alley Shubert
NEWTON — Members of the Newton Town Council voted 3-2 at the June 23 meeting on Ordinance 2014-11, which will formally reject the recommendation of the Newton Historic Commission to designate Horton Mansion as a local historical landmark.
The council’s decision has been based on a report by a professional engineer who deems the building as unsuitable, but the public finds the cost of demolition as an outrageous fee for a location they believe should be preserved for the educational future.
Less than two weeks ago, Newton held its 150th anniversary, and several members of the public expressed to the council why the historical Horton Mansion, formerly known as Don Bosco Campus, and now better known as Sussex County Community College, should not be tore down.
In 1857, John Horton represented the new economy of Newton at the time.
Local Historian Kevin Wright told the council “It was a critical turning point for the town.”
Wright asked the council, “What would it cost to replicate this today?” He went on to say, “This would be stealing from the future and you can’t put it back. This campus should be preserved for the educational economy.”
Newton resident Harry Dunleavy said the college administration claims that it would cost around $450,000 to demolish the historic mansion, and finds it rather insulting to the public, wondering why the half million-to-million dollars available was not used for the upkeep of the mansion in the past 30 years.
“If the county and county college can spend $3 million on repairs to one building, why couldn’t they have spent some money on the upkeep of the beautiful Horton Mansion?” asked Dunleavy.
Sussex County Historian Wayne McCabe has been before the council several times on this issue.
“A report was designed for others to believe that the building would implode, but it is structurally sound,” McCabe said. “Our sign says ‘Welcome to Newton, Preservation Community.’ I am asking you as a resident and taxpayer to work together on this.”
Councilwoman Kristin Becker said she is struggling with the fact as to why there hasn’t been more of a pro-active event.
“Why is it when the witching hour is now here, this comes before us?” Becker said.
McCabe said that there was never a mention of tearing the structure down, and assumed the college would be working on it since they made the last repairs.
Town Mayor Joseph Ricciardo believes that with only one report at hand, it is the college’s obligation to find another professional engineer to prove that the current numbers are invalid.
Councilman Kevin Elvidge told the public, “We have our obligation for respect of others in this community and it should be preserved. One thing that does sound weird is the cost estimate."
“The student’s paying tuition do not want this,” Councilman Dan Flynn said. “I will not put my name on a vote that will raise student’s tuition.”
Ed Fritsch, President of the Sussex County Historical Alliance, came before the council and said that the preservation community is willing to do primary fundraising and will develop a plan to present it.
Resident Lisa Holder created an online petition through www.change.org, that currently has over 1,250 signatures from Sussex County and all around the nation, to preserve the historical building for educational reasons.
Town Manager Tom Russo said that a vote in favor of an ordinance which rejects the recommendation, can hold the possibility of revisiting the discussion in the future.
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