Government

Bridgewater Council Debates Grant Acceptance, and 50% Contribution, for Lane-Brokaw House Stabilization

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The saga of Bridgewater’s venerable Lane-Brokaw House continues, as the township council has been attempting to stabilize the Revolutionary War-era structure on Milltown Road, and will put the matter to a vote later this month.

At stake is a county grant valued at $75,000, which the town had yet to accept as of the council’s agenda session Nov. 30. Council president Allen Kurdyla said the house was something the Bridgewater’s governing body needed to discuss.

“We should start doing something about it,” he said.

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Council vice-president Christine Henderson Rose has spearheaded efforts to preserve the home, which dates back to the late 1700s. Rose said she led a discussion in May 2016 that resulted in submission of an application to the county for the stabilization of the home.

Rose added that a total of $171,321 in funding for the Lane-Brokaw House had been requested, and the county in turn wanted a 50 percent cash maximum contribution from Bridgewater Township. She said that that was when the process ground to a halt.

The county had been willing to accept volunteer time worked on the house toward the grant, and, in August of this year, had forwarded the grant application to the township for execution. The application was subsequently pulled from the council’s September agenda, because by accepting the grant the township would have assumed cost overruns beyond what the grant covered. 

That wasn’t certain with old numerical figures from 2016 plugged into the mix.

“We need to know the level of support for the project,” Rose said, “and if we can accept the money from the county.”

Councilman Filipe Pedroso cautioned that it is a large, unknown expense, which he said made it difficult for him to support the endeavor. Rose said the township has to go out for proposals in order to find out what the actual current costs will be. 

Township administrator James Naples warned that the township itself does not have enough staff to make such determinations.

“We do not have expertise in historic structures,” he said, particularly in areas such as roof preservation and mold remediation.

Rose said the foundation of the home is deteriorating, and Naples responded that the town has had minimal input on that front.

“It’s throwing good money after bad,” he said. “It’s all interrelated.”

Rose said a special architect has studied the situation, and added that there is no point in doing mold remediation without fixing the house’s roof, or repairing the roof without shoring up the home’s foundation.

“(The county) won’t go back into the building until the mold (remediation) is done,” she said.

Pedroso asked where in the contract it states that the township is responsible for repairs. Councilman Howard Norgalis said there is a historic portion that has to be signed by the mayor, as a guarantee of sorts. 

Pedroso said he would like to get the expenses the township is committed to in writing, but was told there is no current written estimate except for the architect.

Norgalis then interjected that a structural engineer’s expertise is required.

“It’s what needs to be done,” he said. “It’s the kind of documentation needed, to know our obligations.”

Rose said experts will have to be hired to perform the work required in order to give the council/town estimates.

An outside firm performed an architectural structural report on the Lane-Brokaw House, and Rose said a price has been attached to each element. She also said they spoke to experts, but the information and any estimates are now over a year old.

“I want contractors to go out there and give us a price,” Pedroso said.

Naples said the township has the aforementioned $75,000. It does not have any corresponding county funds, as the municipality has not yet accepted the county grant.

Pedroso asked why the township couldn’t simply go out to bid, like it did for other projects, and township attorney Christopher Corsini said that in order to bid on projects, the town has to have sufficient money in the bank.

“How do we know, unless we bid it out?” asked Pedroso.

Norgalis said that all the pieces, such as the roof and mold, are interrelated, and Naples agreed that the project couldn’t be done piecemeal. Kurdyla inquired how to protect the $75,000 the town has in the budget at present, until it gets the answers needed.

Norgalis added that some sort of bill is needed, per county requirements, and Rose said there is really no way to get any bids together by Dec. 18. It is also estimated that another $75,000 will have to be put in the 2018 municipal budget.

Pedroso asked if it is possible to get estimates instead of bids, but Naples cautioned that if the town does reach out to potential bidders, they might not releases their numbers for fear of being undercut by other bidders.

Pedroso still wanted to know if the town could ask for estimates, as he said they are “flying blind” on the matter at this point. He added that he wants to get the project done, and to use the county grant as soon as possible.

“I just want the information,” he said. “I want to do it now, but I want to know what it costs.”

Rose added that the town is not looking to do restoration of the Lane-Brokaw House, but stabilization, so that the Friends of Bridgewater can then ultimately sell the property, ostensibly for $1. She then asked if the council wished to use the $75,000 in the budget for a funding match, and Norgalis said he couldn’t yet commit to spending such funds in the future, not with the current documentation.

“I can’t do that,” he said. “We don’t know what it’s going to be.”

Rose said she actually might be able to pull everything together in term of quotes by the council’s regular meeting on Dec. 18, at least regarding roof repairs and mold remediation. She asked whether, if the costs are within $75,000, and potentially a further $75,000 in 2018, the council would then accept the county’s grant.

Norgalis replied that he wants actual numbers, not estimates. Pedroso said he would be comfortable moving forward with estimates, unless they are outside the $75,000, in which case he would have to reconsider.

Rose again said that the numbers for the Lane-Brokaw project are old, and added that she is willing to invest her time in getting new ones. She admitted that the original total of about $171,000 for the stabilization had been a low number.

“It will be more,” she said.

Rose said she would get the estimates for the council’s Dec. 18 meeting, which will be held in the building on Commons Way at 7:30 p.m.

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