SOMERSET, NJ - The Township Council unanimously supported moving forward with plans to build a peace and non-violence memorial on Route 27 Tuesday night.
The plan is to build four bronze statues of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and Mahatma Gandhi on a piece of land on Route 27 and Cortelyous Lane.
Township Councilman At-Large Rajiv Prasad, who has been spearheading the project, said that the artwork for the plan is being donated.
“We plan to build the peace and non-violence memorial with bronze statues, donated, of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, busts of Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa,” Prasad said during council reports and comments. “We plan to have a service on Sept. 29 on the grounds of the proposed site. Our manager asked for a ‘nod’ for the preparation of the ground.”
Members eventually voted to let the project, estimated to cost the township between $50,000-$100,000, move forward through Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Township Attorney Louis Rainone unless major issues come up, in which case, it will come back to the governing body.
“Councilman Prasad, I know this has been an issue of yours for 10 years,” Township Councilman James Vassanella said. “I truly think when this can be done, that is a route that is traveled by a lot of people from a lot of places. This will be a landmark that will slowly creep around the state and get recognized.”
Several residents, including representatives from the inter-faith and Human Relations Commission, spoke in favor of the plan during public comments.
Although all the members also supported the project, the vote generated quite a bit of discussion.
Prasad said the plan is based on drawings that are about 10 years old and the design of the memorial would have to be modified in line with location and financial realities.
Mayor Phillip Kramer said he favored the plan, but was concerned about the costs the township would incur through the use of Department of Public Works employees and also legal questions about the copyrights of the images of the figures for the statues.
“I think we need to go into this with our eyes wide open,” Kramer said. “(The project is) gorgeous. It is monumentous in its structure. I think we need to know what the costs will be. I think we need to know what the legal ramifications will be.”
Kramer said he believes the cost to the township could be $100,000 “at a minimum,” and that the council needs to be involved if issues come up with the planning or construction.
Vornlocker said that it would take about 6-10 weeks for a crew of eight workers to complete the project.
“There is a significant amount of assembly of the details of the monuments that would be rather labor intensive,” Vornlocker said. “There’s concrete work to be done, there’s granite work to be done.”
Rainone said that he just received the materials for the project within “the last 24 hours” and did not yet have an opinion regarding issues that could arise from the project.
“This involves the donation of art and that is something we don’t do every day,” Rainone said. “We will vet it and come back (to the council).”
Township Councilman Carl Wright said that the town should just move forward and if either the manager or attorney came up against an issue that could not be resolved, then notify the council.
“Let the township manager and the councilor do what is required and come back to us during the summer,” Wright said. “I just don’t want to micro-manage the process.”
Wright offered a motion, seconded by Prasad, for the town to move forward on the project, but Kramer then offered an amendment that the manager would bring any problems back to the council.
The amendment passed 7-1 with Wright voting “no.”
The amended motion then unanimously passed.
Township Councilman Theodore Chase was absent from the meeting.
Kramer joked that it was the “longest council reports and comments” session he knew of.
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