RARITAN, NJ - Raritan Borough is taking ownership of the Washington School property on First Avenue – and now plans are being made for what to do with it.
The school has been owned by Somerset County for years, and the borough will be taking ownership of the property for $1. The county has also committed to demolishing the building, at no cost to the borough, because it would cost too much to repair.
Mayor Charles McMullin said the property is a total of 6 acres, which does not include the ball fields to the north that are used. He said there has been some confusion that the borough might be looking to replace the school with some sort of intensive housing, but that is not going to happen.
“The council, to my reading in terms of this discussion, doesn’t want to do that,” he said.
The reality, McMullin said, is the borough has under-invested in emergency services and recreational facilities, and that might be a good proposition for the property.
Basically, McMullin said, he has asked emergency services and the recreation department to look into putting together proposals for how the land can be used.
For the fire department, McMullin said, he is asking members to put together a needs assessment as to what would be needed to consolidate the departments from the Anderson Street and North Thompson Street buildings.
And if the project were to go through, McMullin said, proceeds from the sale of the fire department building would go toward funding the project at the Washington School property.
“That would be their contribution to the expense,” he said.
With respect to the rescue squad, McMullin said, they would like to have a better building, and he is also asking them for a needs assessment.
“With respect to the police department, it’s very tight in the building, there is no storage and no place for people,” he said.
McMullin asked Chief Kenneth McCormick and the police department to also put together information about their needs for the property.
“One of the things that would be helpful is we have 14 vehicles down here, and police would get adequate share of parking if we could put the police at the Washington School property,” he said.
In addition, McMullin said, he would like the historical and cultural commission to look into where all the borough’s artifacts can be displayed.
But, McMullin said, there is a financial piece of the project that is important to understand.
“I would ask that I could work with Zach Bray on the financial side of this so that we can come to the meeting in late June with plans and expenses,” he said.
The objective, McMullin said, is to put this project together with very little impact on the tax revenue.
“With contributions by the fire department, rescue squad and grant money available, it seems like town money could be limited to recreation and the police department,” he said.
Councilman James Foohey asked whether McMullin is looking to replace the school with a multi-function building on that site.
McMullin said that would be one option, as would having multiple buildings.
Foohey said he would be interested in seeing a number of different options for the property, which can be discussed by the council and presented to the public.
“It sounds good what you’re proposing, but I want to make sure we look at the options,” he said. “We will probably never get that much acreage again.”
Options and plans are expected to be presented in June.