Ain't that a kick?
The new facility, which was built at street level in a room that was once an old firehouse and finally a municipal garage, will enable people who might not have been able to climb the three flights of stairs to get to the old chambers a chance to see what goes on firsthand in the township.
The old chambers, which were used from the time North Bergen's Town Hall was built more than 80 years ago, has already begun a transformation into much needed office space.
Before the first meeting in the new chambers, North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco had to take one last trip upstairs to look at the old one, where he presided over hundreds of meetings both as a mayor and a commissioner for the last 17 years.
"I wanted to see it one more time," Sacco said. "With everything torn up, you can see the original tin ceilings. You can see where the original Town Hall ended and the new one began. Just being in there and seeing it that way seemed so strange to me. I spent a lot of time in that room."
When Sacco sat down to preside over his first meeting in the new facility, he still felt somewhat emotional. "It just felt very different," Sacco said. "It was like going into a new building that you never had been in before. It was a different feeling, hard to describe. The other chambers, I knew. This is going to take some time to get used to. It's like when you paint a room in your house. You don't know if you like it at first. But you get used to it. In time, this room will have its own tales to tell as well."
The new council chambers are part of a $1 million renovation to Town Hall that will make it 100 percent handicapped accessible and up to the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will also eventually include the construction of several new offices where the old council chambers resided, as well as a new meeting room on street level strictly for handicapped residents.
According to Township Administrator Chris Pianese, a portion of the funding comes from a federal Community Block Development Grant (CDBG) for $300,000 and another $160,000 came from a grant from the federal ADA.
"So we're basically paying for half and the other half comes from grants," Pianese said.
Sacco said that the construction made all the sense in the world.
"We needed the office space upstairs and we needed to have a facility so that people wouldn't have to climb up and down the stairs," Sacco said. "It's actually very nice and it's the right thing to do for everyone in the community. It's a new facility with a new sound system."
Commissioner Hugo Cabrera was happy with the way the new chambers turned out.
"It's very exciting and it looks very nice," Cabrera said. "I get a feeling like it's a new part of history, having the first meeting in this room. It's handicapped accessible and easier to get to. It's a much better room with high-tech microphones, so everyone can hear. It's what we're here for, to make everything easier for the people, to encourage them to want to come to the meetings. There was a little sadness when we left the old room, but now we're here, it's part of history and I'm part of it. It's something new and we're moving forward."
There was something else new at Wednesday's meeting. There weren't any of the familiar anti-Sacco faces who usually made waves. Obviously, honoring Martial Arts Week in a township non-election year doesn't bring out the rabble rousers.
"They weren't here to christen the room," Sacco laughed. "I guess we have to wait until we get closer to an election."