JERSEY CITY, NJ - County officials said phase one of a four phase Guarini Justice Complex project is nearly complete.
After decades of delays, the $345 million project began in earnest in 2018 after the county finalized agreements with the city of Jersey City and a number of private owners.
Demolition of a number of buildings along the northside of Newark Avenue allowed the county and Jersey City to reconfigure a number of local streets including extending Central Avenue to Newark Avenue for the first time.
In February, the Hudson County Freeholders voted to award a contract to Zuccaro to begin the reconfiguring work. “I won’t be around to see this complex completed,” said Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso. “But I won’t leave until this project is well underway.”
Bariso has been the most vocal advocate for the new complex for years although Freeholders have been contemplating a new complex for decades to replace the County Administration Building on Newark Avenue. The building was constructed in the 1960s but has had massive and costly problems for decades.
County officials were notified about the problems at 595 Newark Ave. more than 30 years ago – although now the cost is nearly 10 times what the county originally estimated. A 1988 study done by the National Center for State Courts showed that the administration building was “functionally unsatisfactory in terms of circulation, structural and environmental systems.”
Current problems in the building include inadequate heat and air-conditioning, lack of space for court operations, elevators that are regularly in disrepair, antiquated electrical systems that require the county to seek parts from junkyards to repair, a building facade that is crumbling, leaky windows, a first floor garage that regularly floods, and a drainage system that sometimes results in human waste backing up out of toilets. A recent evaluation also showed that there were security problems due to the odd layout of the building.
“The courtrooms themselves are undersized for today’s standards,” the report from the 1990s said. “The space that is provided for a jury box (where needed), spectator seating, and counsel tables is extremely tight and uncomfortably close. The courts’ overall appearance and stature could also be enhanced through the use of double height ceilings.”
County officials started the process of addressing some of these concerns in 1991 and compiled a plan in 1993 that concluded the building had passed its prime and should be replaced. But the plan was never implemented.
Originally estimated at a cost of between $150 to $170 million, the plan currently has an anticipated price tag of more than twice that, barring any cost overruns.
The master plan for the new complex was developed by Rafael Viñoly Architects of New York City and includes a five-story courthouse building, a 450-space garage, along with a public food court, law library, 24 courtrooms and various other amenities. The new courthouse is expected to be completed by 2023.
The original intent of the county was to sell the property where the existing courthouse is to help defray some of the costs of constructing the new facility but heavy lobbying by Jersey City Council Richard Boggiano and members of Journal Square Civic Association managed to let the city purchase the property for $1 and to build a sorely needed public park there.
“There is no open space in Journal Square,” Boggiano said. “We need that space for a park. Journal Square is seeing massive development and so the open space is needed that much more.”
The city will pay the estimated $15 million demolition and remediation costs to make the open space safe and usable.
Sign up for TAPinto E-News alerts to be the first to read about all things local
Know a story we should share with readers? Email editor Steve Lenox and tell him about it.