RARITAN, NJ - The plan for a new emergency services building moved one step closer to reality recently when the Raritan Borough Council unanimously voted to work with the Somerset County Improvement Authority on the project.
The home base for Raritan's police station and fire department will be built on an approximately 8-acre tract that was the site of the former Washington School on First Avenue.
Washington School closed its doors to students in the early 1980s. Shortly thereafter, Somerset County purchased the property and used the building to house certain county offices.
In 2016, the county vacated the building and approached the municipality with an offer to knock down the old building, clean up the site and return the land to Raritan.
“They wanted to give it back to the borough, and it provided an opportunity for us to acquire a very large piece of land,” said Mayor Charles McMullin.
At that time, there were some concerns that the property would be used for residential development. In the end though, there was a policy decision that it should remain public land.
The mayor said the arrangement is for a lease/purchase agreement with Somerset County through the Improvement Authority.
The county will design, construct and finance the project. It will also retain ownership of the property until the 20-year bond is paid in full, then the land will be deeded over to the borough.
“This project is coming together as a result of the great cooperation between the county, the borough, the fire and the police departments,” said McMullin.
The additional space for both the police and fire operations is long overdue, since both of the borough's emergency services departments had long ago outgrown their current spaces.
The police headquarters was built in 1979, and designed to accommodate the 15 officers in the department. With the addition of one new officer, who will be sworn in at the end of October, the full complement of the police department will be made up of 21 police officers currently housed in an under 3,000-square-foot space.
The new fire department space has allowed for the borough to authorize the purchase of a $1.25 million ladder fire truck because the new building will have the room to park it and other equipment in a protected space.
In addition to the new emergency services building, the development of the former Washington School site will include the repositioning of the First Avenue and Route 202 jug handle, and provide an increase in parking spaces for the recreational fields in the area.
The original project cost came in at roughly $8 million, however, after council president Don Tozzi and councilman Paul Giraldi met with the respective chiefs and a need assessment was completed, the plan was scaled back with 1,000 square feet less on the fire department side of the building and a reduction in the common area.
McMullin said the project is now estimated at $7.2 million, and is financially feasible due to the additional revenue from the Raritan Crossings apartment complex located on the Block 81 site. It was noted that the cost being discussed is for the physical building only and does not include furniture, technology and other necessities.
The mayor said he expects that the tax revenue stream being added by a number of commercial projects including the expansion of Lab Corp and the new Quick Chek is “icing on the cake” for Raritan taxpayers.
“We are in great fiscal shape for stable municipal taxes,” McMullin said.
“We've known for a long time we needed to do this, but I didn’t know how we ever would have been able to afford it,” he added. “The Raritan Crossings project at Block 81 was the answer. That development has afforded our community a wonderful opportunity for our emergency services professionals and our residents.”