Byram Municipal Building Subcommittee, Town Council explore municipal complex options

| 28 Feb 2019 | 12:03

    By Mandy Coriston
    Byram - In December, the Byram Township Council contracted the Nader Group, LLC to analyze site data and provide options for a new municipal complex to modernize the township's aging facilities. On Tuesday evening, Feb. 26, the design firm presented its findings to the Municipal Building Subcommittee. Setting up a large display of site drawings and floor plans, owner and engineer Wassim Nader described various layouts.
    The meeting soon became tense when subcommittee member David Romano, owner of the RoNetco ShopRite in Byram, said he felt that Nader’s presentation was not in line with the deliverable items decided upon at the last subcommittee meeting on Jan. 9.
    “Maybe I’m missing something,” Romano said, “but I thought we were getting a cost analysis, what you called a matrix, of all the sites we discussed. This looks like we’re already building buildings.”
    One main point of contention, echoed by others on the subcommittee, was that there was no data provided on the Open Space section of the Intermediate School, which had been held as a strong option for civic and administrative use, with the current municipal building to be retrofitted to allow for a new police station. Romano also expressed frustration at not having seen any solid cost estimates.
    “We haven’t seen this matrix you talked about last time,” he said, “We haven’t seen black and white numbers as to spending taxpayer dollars.”
    Nader passed out copies of the site analysis, and explained that they had not included a cost breakdown or design plan for the Open Space at the school because they did not feel it was a viable option. A primary issue would be cost for extensive renovations to space which it would be leasing from the Board of Education. Romano countered that tax money in Byram goes to both the school and the town, and therefore the Open Space is taxpayer property.
    The engineer cited numerous issues with the ceilings and insulation in the Open Space, and a need for expansive electrical and mechanical upgrades. He also noted that the school itself may need use of the area for its STEM program. Debate about whether that would still be viable led to Mayor Alex Rubenstein saying he felt it necessary to see numbers for a plan for the Open Space.
    “I understand your matrix,” the mayor said, “But can we get a deliverable of the cost of an Open Space renovation, analysis of the parking issues, etc., and the renovations needed for the existing mortar building to be turned into an ‘essential’ building for the police department?”
    Nader agreed, but said the firm will need some time to assemble that data, and will deliver it in two weeks.
    Of the designs that Nader and his associates did bring to the meeting, three called for renovation and addition to the current municipal space and one depicted an entirely new building. All of them would include a new 4,720 sq. ft. police station, triple the current size, including essentials to meet building code. That space would include offices, storage, processing, evidence locker and armory, as well as a small crime lab and locker room. A new ‘sally port’- a separate, secure entrance/exit for transporting arrestees would also need to be built.
    The designs all account for the need for flexible space for the public, as well as secure offices for the staff. Nader Group, LLC’s head interior designer Karen Wenschhof explained that the drafts could be changed after feedback, but that the basics were laid out to show how each building option would flow. Another major concern seemed to be how construction would be phased and where people would work during the major undertaking.
    “We’ve built in the costs of temporary trailers, but depending on the design and the construction technique, we may not need them," Wenschhof said. "We may be able to complete a section and move people before starting the next section. It’s a matter of whether people can enter and exit the building safely. We can’t put a price on that.”
    Members of the public asked about building up, not out; cost-sharing with other municipalities, which was tabled as a conversation for the next Town Council meeting; DEP concerns with the proximity to Lubber’s Run, which is a Highlands-protected CAT1 stream; and if the foundation of the existing ‘shed’ portion of the municipal building could be used as a footprint for part of the new complex.
    While the early estimates on the Nader Group’s proposed designs are lower than estimates given by the last architect, they all come in at right around $6 million. Subcommittee member John Morytko summed up the evening shortly before adjournment.
    “I’m not saying I’d like to go back to the original cost [of the last estimate],” Morytko said, “But we aren’t shocked by these numbers; they aren’t wildly out of line with what we’ve discussed. We need to remember this is only information, it’s not a decision.”
    The public is encouraged to attend all meetings of the Municipal Building Subcommittee, the next of which will be at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 4 to discuss the options given on Tuesday, and at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 14, when the Nader Group will return with the additional information regarding the Open Space option. The meetings will take place in the Municipal Building.