Oceanport Looks Forward To New Municipal Complex At Former Fort

February 15, 2017
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Building 901 on Fort Monmouth is the future home of the Oceanport borough offices, municipal court and library.

By Jenna O’Donnell |

OCEANPORT – On a sunny Saturday, Oceanport officials and residents toured several former Fort Monmouth buildings that are expected to house the borough’s new municipal complex.

More than a hundred borough residents came out on Feb. 4 to explore the buildings and left with mostly positive things to say about the property, said borough administrator Ray Poerio, who led several tours through the seven buildings in the 900 section of the fort. Many, he said, were surprised by how large the buildings were on the inside.

“The one negative comment was ‘When are we going to be done?’” Poerio said. That answer lies in the finalization of the purchase of the property from the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), an agreement that is nearly completed. Once the property is purchased, officials hope to begin a 15-month renovation of the buildings this spring.

Some eagerness is warranted, as Oceanport’s proposed move to 13.35 acres of former Fort Monmouth property will conclude more than four years of deliberation on where to build the borough’s municipal center after its former borough hall was destroyed by Super Storm Sandy. After the borough looked at several options, either rebuilding at the former site at 222 Monmouth Blvd. or building at Wolf Hill Park or Maria Gatta Park, borough planners realized the former fort property made the most sense.

“Essentially, we had to look at all the other options,” said Mayor John “Jay” Coffey. “By process of elimination, we’re at the point now where the best option for us is the property at Fort Monmouth.”

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Instead of building a new structure as they would need to at the other sites, the borough will rehabilitate more than 40,000 square feet within seven existing buildings at a much lower cost. “It offers us the biggest bang for the buck,” Coffey said.

Plans for the 40,000-square-foot complex that will house borough offices, a municipal court, a library, community center and police and emergency services were presented to the public at a Jan. 19 council meeting. Several weeks before that, the council introduced an $11 million bond ordinance to cover the purchase and rehabilitation of the former fort buildings. Much of the cost will be covered by a combination of $5.3 million in FEMA funding and grants, with a maximum of $3.7 million born by taxpayers, Coffey said.

“It’s not an egregious price, given that we’ll have all this space,” said Coffey. In comparison, the former borough hall was 8,000 square feet.

The borough administrative offices and court currently reside in the Old Wharf Building on East Main Street, while council meetings are held in the middle school library. The police, emergency services and public works department have already moved onto former fort property.

“It will be five times the size,” said Poerio, noting the centralized location allows Oceanport to combine its administrative offices, library, community center, council and emergency services for the first time. “Here at the Wharf building we are basically on top of each other so it will be a really nice complex for the borough.”

Developing on Fort Monmouth also helps the public and potential developers to start thinking about former fort property as a part of Oceanport, said Coffey, who pointed out that moving the municipal center onto fort land signals to developers that the borough has a stake there.

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“We think that the fort development will be accelerated by Oceanport’s having its municipal complex there,” he said. “We have to get away from the mindset that the fort is a separate entity. It’s part of Oceanport.”

Coffey added that he expected to have an update on the purchase of the property at the March council meeting. He hopes to also have another open house for the public at the future municipal complex once the weather gets warmer.

“It’s been a long haul for us,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we had public input on this and that our taxpayers knew exactly what we’re doing and to have the numbers available for everybody when they asked the questions. I think we’re there at this point.”

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