SOMERVILLE, NJ - The long-awaited demolition of three derelict buildings on the site of the planned Somerville Public Safety complex at the intersection of Gaston Avenue and East Cliff Street has begun.

Heavy equipment began ripping into one of the buildings next to the former Gaston Avenue bakery building early Tuesday morning. The demolition work and removal of the debris on the 1.77-acre site is expected to take 10 days, according to Borough Clerk Kevin Sluka.

The property was purchased by the borough last year for $1.3 million, Sluka added.

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A three-story building would be erected on the site, according to preliminary plans. The first floor would include bays for the borough's four fire trucks and a secure entrance for the police department, which would be located on the second floor. The possibility of a third floor which would accommodate Somerset County's Emergency 911 Call Center is being studied, according to Sluka. The project cost - excluding the call center - has been estimated at $15 million, Sluka said.

The goal is to consolidate the borough's 4 fire companies, now scattered at three sites throughout the 2.5-square-mile borough, according to Sluka. 

The tract also includes a vacant residence behind the bakery building that faces on to East Cliff Street. Next to the bakery are a vacant building that used to be a bank and a vacant one-story office building further north on Gaston Avenue.

The borough's Emergency Services Commission is to meet Friday to begin a review of the architectural proposals submitted by four different firms, according to Sluka.

That process is expected to last several months, along with continuing discussions concerning the Emergency 911 Call Center. The Borough Council will then need to select the architect, approve the building plan, and advertise for bids on the construction, according to Sluka.

There are issues with some of the borough’s emergency services buildings, according to borough and fire officials. Engine Company No. 1 is located in a flood zone, and the doors of West End Hose Company, which shares its building with Central Hook & Ladder, opens on to the borough’s Parking Lot #2.

A firehouse on Division Street built in late 1800s was taken out of service a few years ago; West End Hose Company and Central Hook & Ladder Company share a building on West High Street; Lincoln Hose Company is on located on Warren Street; Engine Company No. 1 is on the corner of East Main and Veterans Memorial Drive East; the First Aid and Rescue Squad is on Park Avenue within walking distance of Engine Company No. 1 and Police Headquarters are located at 24 So. Bridge St.