Freeholders: Smart Growth and Savings all Part of County’s Plans in Meeting Future Building Needs

county resource building tls With an eye toward smart growth and future savings, Ocean County officials have been provided a comprehensive blueprint of what buildings County government may need to accommodate its workforce into the future.

“Buildings cost money and take a lot of time to construct,” said Ocean County Administrator Carl W. Block, who presented the study to the Board of Freeholders. “This study was done to help us accomplish several things as we look at our future needs and consider a possible plan of action.”

Ocean County government maintains about 135 buildings situated throughout the 620 square miles that make up the County. The study looks at consolidation of Superior Court functions, moving programs to better and more cost effective locations and creating a more efficient campus for government functions.

“This is all about smart growth, enhanced security in some areas like the courthouse, increasing efficiency and saving dollars,” said Freeholder Director John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety. “We provide numerous programs and services to our 600,000 residents and its imperative offices and locations all make sense for accessibility and efficiencies.”

Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who is liaison to the Ocean County Finance Department, said looking at the overall building needs of the County provided the entire Board with a better idea of the direction it may want to take in the future.

“It’s a very good idea to look at the whole picture now so that we can later prioritize based on our needs and affordability,” he said. “It’s a very smart thing to do.”

The plan presented during the June 8 preboard meeting of the Board of Freeholders, provides a number of suggestions that would result in a domino effect by moving government functions to proposed new facilities which would open up space in current buildings. It would also allow the county to not renew leases once they end which would provide substantial cost savings.

Among the recommendations outlined in the facilities plan was the construction of the Ocean County Road Department Garage in the Ridgeway section of Manchester Township. The County has already received the approvals and permits for the project but delayed construction because of the downturn in the economy followed by Superstorm Sandy. The site in Manchester Township would provide a new space for the Ocean County Transportation Department currently located on Route 9 in Toms River and a warehouse that is now located on Chestnut Street also in Toms River.

“Moving transportation would provide more space, longer bays and a greater ease in maintaining buses and vehicles that are part of the county’s public transportation system,” said Freeholder Virginia E. Haines, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Transportation Department. “The new facility would also provide a more efficient way to service our buses and vehicles by the Vehicle Services staff.

“These suggestions are key to a better functioning county government and its related agencies,” Haines said.

In addition, by relocating the warehouse to the Manchester location, it would free up space to move the Ocean County Office of Emergency Management to the Chestnut Street location bringing it closer to other functions of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department, like its 911 Operations Center. Emergency Management is currently located at the Ocean County Airport, Berkeley Township.

“It makes sense to place similar functions together,” Kelly said. “Our current locations are choppy. We can plan smarter for the future.”

The plan also focused on the consolidation of courtroom space which is currently spread around several sites in the downtown Toms River area including the Ocean County Courthouse at 118 Washington Street, Toms River and the Ocean County Justice Complex at 120 Hooper Avenue, Toms River.

“More than 100 employees have been added to the court system in Ocean County in the last 10 years,” Block said. “And, we anticipate those numbers will increase once bail reform is implemented in 2017.”

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders, however, says the state of New Jersey should be footing the bill for new courtrooms and the expansion of court offices specifically related to bail reform.

“We need to maximize the utilization of the court space we have now,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, liaison to the Department of Buildings and Grounds. “I think we need to take an even closer look at current use in the buildings that now house courtrooms and see what else can be done.

“If we have to provide new space to accommodate state-mandated programs we are talking about spending a lot of money,” he said. “That’s not a fair position to put our taxpayers in.”

The space plan’s focus is to reduce the number of locations in the downtown complex used by the courts in order to reduce the need for security at those buildings.

“When we can move every court function into one building then we can have one entry and that allows us to reduce the manpower currently provided,” Kelly said. “This will provide for a more secure courthouse for both staff and the public and those officers can serve our residents in other functions.”

Ocean County Sheriff’s officers are tasked with providing security at each entry of a building that has court functions in it. Currently there are about 10 entries secured by the officers.

Block noted construction of an addition for the courts which would be linked to the justice complex would be several years away even if work began now.

“From selecting an architect to final design it would be about two years before we broke ground on a new building,” he said.

Vicari suggested the Freeholders prioritize the recommendations of the study.

“Since this has been in the works for several years and we have already secured the site and approvals, the priority should be the new garage, transportation center and warehouse on our site in Manchester Township,” Vicari said. “We are already looking for a new location and building replacement for the Ocean County Northern Resource Center in Lakewood so we can find a more convenient location for our constituents.

“It’s important we also review space for the Ocean County Board of Social Services,” said Freeholder Haines, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Board of Social Services. “With its lease at 1027 Hooper Avenue ending in 2022 we need to begin preparations now to determine what will be done in the future.”

Block noted Ocean County will receive federal reimbursement to partially offset the cost of a new building for social services.

Freeholder Bartlett emphasized the County will not build or plan anything that cannot be accommodated in the county’s annual budget or would have a negative effect on its debt service.

“We keep very tight controls over what we spend,” Bartlett said. “If it doesn’t fit within the budget we don’t do it.”


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