The Morris County Board of Freeholders has unanimously approved the hiring of a major Clifton-based infrastructure firm, AECOM, to design an estimated $62 million Morris County Courthouse expansion.
Representatives of the firm will meet with the county governing board to discuss the project at an open-to-the-public work session on Nov. 13, at 4:30 p.m., at the County Administration and Records Building at 10 Court Street in Morristown.
The board voted at its Oct. 23 public meeting to award the $3.9 million design contract to AECOM, which has extensive experience in designing judicial facilities.
In moving ahead with the design, the freeholders significantly reduced the initial cost of the estimated $106 million overall project by modifying the scope and breaking it into phases, so the county only will have appropriate $62 million for the first phase or construction phase of the new building when work begins in a few years.
“We intend to keep close watch on the spending for this project and to make every effort to keep down costs for county taxpayers,’’ said Freeholder John Krickus. “As part of that effort, we already have saved $1 million in architectural fees and millions in interest by reducing the scope of the project and by tapping into the county’s top-ranked Triple A bond rating.’’
That bond rating, he noted, ranks better than that of the federal government.
The county’s contract with AECOM calls for the design of a secure criminal court facility with eight courtrooms and modern court space that would be attached to the County Administration and Records Building in Morristown.
The new building, to include environmental/energy efficiency in building design, would be located on the site of a county open-air parking lot off Schuyler Place. It would not require taking any property off the Morristown tax rolls and would not have any adverse impact on the historic, original portion of the county courthouse.
The hiring of AECOM was recommended to the full Freeholder Board after a thorough review by a special Courthouse Design Evaluation Committee, which included Freeholders Tom Mastrangelo, John Krickus, and Stephen Shaw, and County Administrator John Bonanni and Assistant Administrator Deena Leary, with technical assistance from the county’s engineering staff.
“We looked at the needs of the county and court system, not the wants of the system, in moving to the next step of a viable and realistic courthouse expansion that will handle the legal needs of the county for the next several decades,’’ said Freeholder Stephen Shaw.
“Another benefit of this project will be to provide quality court facilities that will maintain Morris County’s standing as the judicial hub of North Jersey,’’ said Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo. “That benefits county residents, the legal community, and our local businesses in Morristown, which is the Morris County Seat,’’ he added.
Freeholder Krickus stressed that the new design would not require costly removal and replacement of the Morris County Tourism Bureau and the Deidre’s House facility for young victims of abuse and neglect, both of which are located on Court Street in Morristown, adjacent to the site of the new criminal courts.
Providing adequate court facilities and securing those facilities are the sole responsibility of each respective county in New Jersey. To assess those needs, a previous Freeholder Board in 2017 commissioned a Space Needs and Facilities Assessment pertaining to the judiciary and county government.
That assessment, completed in 2018, identified a significant shortfall in criminal, family and civil court facilities, and detailed the outdated conditions in the existing courthouse complex. The recommendation of the report was to construct a new criminal courthouse.
In anticipation of the need for a courthouse project, the Freeholder Board in late 2018, by a unanimous vote following a public hearing process, adopted two capital ordinances to fund the design.
The Board of Freeholders, in agreeing to move forward with the process, focused on balancing the obvious needs of the court system with the financial concerns of county taxpayers in mind in seeking an acceptable option -- one that is in the lower end of the cost range.
A decision to seek a design firm came after a coordinated and thorough review process of the entire project by a team that included the county government administration, freeholders, the judiciary, and the Sheriff’s Office.
The process included extensive meetings, site tours, and consideration of numerous alternatives, with a focus on public safety security, accessibility and functionality, and the potential for future expansion, should the need arise.
The freeholders in June, at a public meeting, scrutinized the Space Needs and Facilities Assessment with representatives of their consulting firm, Dewberry, to assess potential alternatives and the potential cost of the project.
In July, the freeholders unanimously approved a request for proposals to seek professional engineering services for the preliminary and final designs of a Morris County Courthouse expansion.
The Courthouse Design Proposal Review Steering Committee evaluated and ranked each of the design project proposals before making a unanimous final decision and a unanimous recommendation to the full freeholder board on Oct. 23.
The overall process includes several key decision points for the Freeholder Board, which will continue to seek input from various stakeholders and county residents as this process moves along.
For more information, visit https://morriscountynj.gov/ and https://morriscountynj.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/SpaceStudy-Final.pdf
Over the past year, officials from the Morris County courts, law enforcement, engineering and public safety have made presentations on the courthouse issue. You can view the presentation at https://morriscountynj.gov/courthouse2019/
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