Originally published Aug. 18, 2011
By Jonathan Weber
Eatontown — Mayor Gerald Tarantolo’s hopes of receiving Mallette Hall gratis from the closing of Fort Monmouth for a new Borough Hall continues to draw harsh remarks and ill will along party lines.
Last wee, the Eatontown Council approved a measure to allocate $17,000 for Architect Kevin Settembrino of Buck Simpers Architect and Associates to study the feasibility of fixing up the building and the cost of such repairs, but not before a contentious meeting with Republicans aligned against spending any money on the Hall until the town actually has word the building is theirs if they want it, and the Democrats wanting the study to see if they should continue to seek the structure.
Prior studies going back to 2002 have shown that the current Borough Hall on Broad Street lacks space and is overcrowded. Various suggestions to alleviate the situation include building onto the current building or closing the Borough Library and reclaiming its 6,500 square foot space.
In previous meetings, Mayor Tarrantolo said he hopes he can convince the Army to hand over Mallette Hall at no charge to the borough. A geo-thermal system runs under the parking lot that already heats and cools one building and could be hooked to Mallette Hall for about $500,000. There is an attached theater with 600 seats and an amphitheater with seating for about 1,000 that could be used for community wide events.
Tarantolo says that the county has shown some interest in leasing up to 20,000 square feet of the 57,000 square feet of Mallette Hall for a regional courts system and for regional health services. He believes additional energy could be sold to tenants of one of three buildings next to the Hall that will remain standing after the renovation of the Fort.
The study, approved last Wednesday by a three to three tie vote, broken by the Mayor, will give an energy study, including the geo-thermal well field, the costs of solar panels, and bringing the building up to code.
Presently, the Borough Hall on Broad Street has 25,600 square feet, but, according to Settembrino, the town really needs 47,300 square feet, almost double the existing capacity. That amount includes the police department, which is housed on the bottom floor of the facility.
An alternative to the move to Mallette Hall would be a 16,000 square foot addition to the front of the existing structure. At the going rate today of $350 per square foot, the addition would cost the Borough approximately $5.6 million. It will still leave the town short about 5,000 square feet and require a few departments to find office space elsewhere.
Councilman Kevin Gonzalez (R) disputes that the current Borough Hall lacks space. Councilman Dennis Connelly (R) thinks besides the cost of relocation, it would move the government center too far north and lacks access roads, which are all impediments to acquiring the former military center.
Councilman Meir Araman (D) argues there is not enough security in the current building and pointed to a threat a department received last week from “someone not too stable.” Anthony Talerico (D) charged the Republicans with wasting $20,000 on a study that went nowhere when they held power just two years ago.
The fight over the possible acquisition has been going on since January of 2010.