It might have still maintained its original beauty, but its practicality, especially for people with disabilities, is seriously flawed.
A few years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Association ruled that Town Hall did not meet ADA standards. With no elevator or other access for the handicapped, the building was not up to code.
"Over the last year, we've complied with about 90 percent of the requests from the ADA," said North Bergen Township Administrator Chris Pianese. "When it comes to Town Hall, the main concern was to remodel. However, that was not going to work. There is not enough room to put an elevator in the existing building. Building a new building is just too costly."
Town officials then came up with a plan that could eliminate the problems and enable residents with disabilities to gain easy entrance to Town Hall.
Pianese said that there is an area in the basement of the building that used to serve as a headquarters for the old North Bergen Fire Department. The area has been unused since North Bergen joined the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue in 1999.
"That space is currently being used for storage," Pianese said. "We suggested to our attorneys and ADA representatives that we could turn that area into the new chambers for the Board of Commissioners meetings that would have an entrance on ground level. It made perfect sense to utilize that space that way. Everyone seemed to buy into that idea."
Pianese also proposed that there would be a special conference and meeting room where handicapped residents could go, and the respective town officials could go to that area to service the residents' needs, without forcing people to maneuver the building's current steep staircases.
"There's more square footage in the firehouse space than there is in the current chambers," Pianese said. "With this plan, we can turn the existing chambers into much-needed office space."
The plan to build a new town chambers was proposed as part of a $3.075 million improvement plan that was introduced in a bond ordinance during last week's regular Board of Commissioners' meeting.
The proposal also calls for several other improvements to be made to the town's streets and sewers, as well as a land acquisition deal to improve the township's current Department of Public Works complex on Tonnelle Avenue.
But the major portion of the proposal is the $500,000 new chambers on ground level.
"We're already looking for prospective architects, and will be accepting proposals by the second week of September," Pianese said. "We're putting the word out that we're accepting proposals and drawings. Once we get designs and drawings, then we can set the timeline. But I think we can start work on the project in January to have it ready by the spring of next year."
Pianese said that the town will look to borrow the necessary funding to make the improvements, but only according to need. The proposal to build new council chambers on the ground level has already enabled the town to secure a $95,000 grant from the state Division of Local Government to make ADA compliance improvements, with an additional $60,000 available once the project is completed.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco applauded Pianese's efforts in the project.
"It was something we desperately needed to do," Sacco said. "We have to meet ADA compliance and this was probably the only way we could accomplish that. Handicapped people have no means of coming to Town Hall, so now they can come in right off the street, attend our meetings and attend to business matters. It will make the building much better, and the project will be a reasonable one thanks to grant money."