New municipal building top topic at Byram meeting
Options: rehabilitate, rebuild or build anew


Byram's governing body, from left: Councilman David Gray, Councilman Harvey Roseff, Deputy Township Clerk Cynthia Church, Mayor Alex Rubenstein, Township Manager Joseph Sabatini, Councilman Scott Olson, and Township Attorney Thomas Collins discuss the matter of a new municipal building during the Byram Township Council meeting held Tuesday night, August 14 Photo by mandy Coriston

By Mandy Coriston
Byram — On Tuesday night, August 14, the Byram Township Council meeting was dominated by talk about a new municipal building, after the council received a status report from the subcommittee exploring the matter. The document, which was provided to the council by Mayor Alex Rubenstein, listed a number of actions which the subcommittee has already undertaken, and outlined some questions they have as they move forward on the project.
Rubenstein and Councilman Harvey Roseff represent the council on the subcommittee which is made up of community members with varying backgrounds and areas of expertise. Formed earlier this year, and with a half dozen meetings under its belt, the municipal building subcommittee has been hard at work examining options; they’ve been visiting and touring other municipal buildings, and have spoken to Fred Braun, who was instrumental in the building of the modular section of the current building, which houses the police and administrative offices for the township. There is currently a separate entrance to the section of the building which houses the meeting room. The idea would be for the proposed new building to have one entrance for the public to conduct all business, with a separate entrance for the police department only.
The subcommittee’s document posed four questions to the council, the first of which was to address whether the new building needs to be designed to include a courtroom space. Currently Byram shares court services with Andover, an agreement which the council believes will be long-term. Councilman David Gray and Township Manager Joseph Sabatini recently met with Andover officials on the matter.
“It was a very good discussion," Gray said. "We are looking at a ten-year contract to continue sharing services.”
The council discussed the particular requirements which would be necessary for their own court space, including separate judges and council chambers, a need for a raised and enclosed dais, and private restroom facilities.
Gray pointed out that should Byram find itself in need of its own court under unforeseen circumstances, it would not be too difficult to make some tweaks or retrofit a meeting room into a courtroom. Councilman Scott Olson saw it differently.
“If we built a courtroom now, it would be grandfathered in should the regulations ever change,” he said.
When Roseff said the agreement with Andover should be adequate for the time being, Olson said, “It needs to be a 50-60 year building,” meaning the new facility would well outlast the current contract with Andover. Mayor Rubenstein said the subcommittee will take all sides into consideration.
The second question the subcommittee’s document asked of the council was about the necessity of space for the meeting room(s).
“We’ve looked at 5 or 6 iterations of the plans, and the cost still works out to be about $400 per square foot," Olson said. "However, it needs to be looked at carefully. We can potentially save more money by lowering the cost of materials rather than shrinking the size of the space.”
Roseff said, “The new building will need to be useful now, and in the future.”
Gray agreed. “We have to remember this building will exist to serve residents. It has to house our open and public meetings, and host community groups like the Boy Scouts and the seniors. This is about balancing the needs of the community versus the cost of a new building. We should build with the goal of service to the community. We have an obligation to do so.”
The third item concerned feasibility of reuse of the existing structures. The subcommittee would like funds to be available to have a structural analysis done of the current building and its foundation.
“That’s good," Olson said. "We should consider all aspects of construction and rehabilitation costs and see what can and can’t be done under permit.”
Township Manager Joseph Sabatini said he would draft a resolution to authorize the funds for inspections and analysis.
The last inquiry brought to the council by the municipal building subcommittee was on the subject of bidding out for an engineer, and it sparked a bit of a debate among council members. Cory Stoner, who serves as the township engineer, has already done a great deal of cost analysis in regard to a new building, and as Rubenstein pointed out, “he (Stoner) has a tremendous amount of experience dealing with the DEP and wetlands, and he is highly familiar with the area.”
Roseff said that perhaps the engineer consulted for this project be independent from the town, but be willing to stand for Byram’s best interests.
“Whether it’s Cory or someone else, they need to fight for us,” Roseff said.
Olson defended Stoner. "I’ve seen Cory fight for this town, and it shouldn’t be anyone but him doing the site work here. It's a process he’s familiar with.”
A compromise was reached after Sabatini pointed out that the permits are going to be difficult to get no matter who the engineer is.
“Cory can help us with the core sampling, and write detailed specs so we can bid out for a structural engineer,” he said.
Rubenstein said, “We’ll have Cory meet with the subcommittee, and they can always ask for another opinion. But for now, let’s use his expertise.”
David Romano, of RoNetCo Supermarkets, is a member of the subcommittee.
“I believe there’s a lot of expertise on the committee,” Romano said, “I like the idea of Stoner coming and meeting with us, I think we can challenge him with all our questions. It will save time and money to first speak with him, before bringing in another engineer.”
Romano also offered to have the subcommittee visit RoNetCo’s newly renovated office spaces, if anyone would “like to look at a similar, albeit private sector, project.”
The consensus seems to be that the new municipal building will come down to one of three options: tear down and rebuild on the footprint of the existing structure, completely rehabilitate the existing structure, or build a completely new structure.
“We’ll continue visiting other buildings and see what others are doing,” Rubenstein said, “We’re learning a lot and we’re working hard on this.”
Other agenda items included some preliminary talk on the 2019 municipal budget and the possibility that SJ Industries, the company taking over Elizabrthtown Gas, will extend service to Byram.
“We’ve spoken to representatives from SJ Industries," Rubenstein said, “It’s not a thing that could happen overnight, but it’s great that they’ve shown interest in bringing service to Byram.”