BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A discussion among Bridgewater council members on the Lane-Brokaw House pretty much ended before it even got started.
Council president Christine Henderson Rose started the discussion at the governing body’s June 18 meeting, when she said she was looking for a commitment from her peers for mothballing and stabilizing the Revolutionary War-era home, on Milltown Road. The matter has been deliberated for several years now.
The township did not set aside any money in the 2018 municipal budget for historical preservation, although there was a resolution listed on Monday’s agenda about accepting a 2016 historic preservation grant from the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders for $85,660 for improvement to the house.
“I hope you will approve the county grant on faith,” she said. “I’m asking us to go on faith.”
Township administrator James Naples interrupted with some financial reality.
“We can’t go on faith,” he said. “We would have to do an emergency appropriation in the budget.”
He added there would have to already be money available to accept the grant, and there isn’t any right now.
“The CFO will not certify it,” Naples said.
Rose said she still wanted to hear from her fellow council members about if they wanted to spend about $200,000 on repairing the home.
Councilman Allen Kurdyla said he recognized the home was on the agenda, and also said he recognized the discussions about it in the past.
“As time goes on, it will cost more,” he said. “We need to pick and choose where we go.”
Kurdyla said he believes the council should support the restoration of the house, particularly the stabilization of it, although the final total costs aren’t known yet. He also said that if the council had acted two years ago, the cost might have been around $100,000.
“My feeling is, if we’re going to do something, we should get it done,” Kurdyla said. “The longer we wait, the worse the project is going to be.”
Councilman Filipe Pedroso said he would also like to see the Lane-Brokaw House stabilized, but that a request to go on faith was “scary.”
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to work,” he said.
Pedroso said a previous report from an architect had determined it would cost around $170,000 to stabilize the structure. He also said that, according to administration, a 15 percent increase per year for three years would have increased that figure to around $220,000, although he added that was later corrected to five percent per year for three years, which would have dropped the figure to around $198,000. Now he believed it was well up over $200,000 again.
He said the numbers are “all over the place,” and asked how the council could make a responsible decision with taxpayer’s money at stake. If the council did choose to go ahead, they would have a financial obligation to finish, whatever the final cost.
“We need facts and figures,” Pedroso said. “It can’t be that difficult. It’s a small house.”
Council vice president Matthew Moench asked if there was any work township employees could perform on the Lane-Brokaw House, to perhaps lower costs.
Naples said yes.
Moench then asked if Mayor Dan Hayes would authorize such work, and Naples said he would let the council know just as soon as he completed the administration’s report.
Moench asked if money had been put in the 2019 budget, and if budgets would continue to not contain money for the Lane-Brokaw House. Naples replied that there had been money in 2017, which hadn’t been spent.
Naples added that the administration had been very supportive of efforts regarding the house, including every time that Rose had asked for assistance, a proposal or an estimate. He asked about what commitment some council members wanted him to make, and added he didn’t have the authority to do so.
Describing himself as a fiscal conservative, councilman Howard Norgalis said the document at question was “not a workable contract.” He also spoke of the emergency stabilization of the Lane-Brokaw House, which would require mold remediation and ventilation, along with roof replacement and project oversight.
Norgalis also said he was concerned the Lane-Brokaw House could go the way of other state contracts, and that the basement of the structure, which had been subject to flooding, hadn’t even really been examined. He also asked to have the council do a whole walk-through of the building.
“The outside brickwork is historical,” said Norgalis, “but nothing inside.”
Rose said she had hoped to leave the council chambers that evening with an agreement to accept the county grant, along with preliminary construction documentation.
“At minimum, I had hoped to accept the grant,” she said, “but we can’t accept it without funds.”
She said she had not been previously aware of that, which had essentially rendered the entire discussion “pointless,” although she added that the estimated numbers to repair the house would not decrease.
Rose finished by saying that the Redwood Inn property, plus a proposed open space referendum, could provide “money pots” that could be utilized for the Lane-Brokaw House, but that for now, the subject was going back in the proverbial closet.