Sea Bright’s town hall will have to make room for a court operation now housed in a trailer out back.


Less than two weeks before a deadline, Sea Bright officials are sending to a Superior Court judge preliminary plans for a new courtroom to be constructed in a gymnasium in the borough hall.

The plan to move the municipal court from a trailer adjoining the building is the latest offered after more than four years of debate about how to comply with Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson’s order that the borough meet state standards for court facilities.

Lawson has threatened to take control of court revenue from speeding tickets and other violations if the deadline isn’t met, a move that would divert some $200,000 from the borough’s $4.8 million budget into an escrow account.

To comply, officials have pledged to begin renovations on the one-story structure next to Donovan’s Reef by next summer, according to Councilman Brian Kelly, who head the borough’s Smart Growth Revitalization Committee.

The renovations would allow the municipal courtroom to be moved inside with other government functions. The entire project has a target completion date of fall, 2009, Kelly said last night, following the council’s fifth and final Smart Growth workshop meeting for this year.

“We’re going to move forward quickly on this,” Kelly said.

Should Lawson approve the plan, municipal court proceedings will still be held inside the trailer as has been the case for the past 15 years —a condition that generated the judge’s complaint.

At present, officials and the Smart Growth Committee are uncertain as to whether or not to expand the existing borough hall east towards the beachfront and the spot where the trailer now sits, Kelly said during the meeting.

A more developed plan and estimated costs will presented at the first Smart Growth workshop early in the new year, Kelly said. The council itself re-organizes on Jan. 3.

Architectural plans presented last month show that the 1,000 square feet of office space that municipal employees are now crowded into would be quadrupled to about 4,000 square feet, Kelly told the governing body and about 20 residents assembled in the council chambers. The space would be carved out of the gymnasium that takes up the bulk of the building, which was donated to the town for recreational purposes more than 40 years ago.

“We’ll have to gobble into that,” Kelly said of the gym.

In its place will be a smaller multi-purpose room taking up whatever space was not dedicated for municipal offices or courtroom facilities, Kelly explained.

As at last month’s Smart Growth workshop, a few residents questioned whether the donor, since deceased, had placed any conditions or deed restrictions on the property. Veteran Councilman Jack Keeler told the residents that he had not found any such restrictions when he researched the property in the Monmouth County archives in Freehold.

Councilman-elect C. Read Murphy indicated that despite its original purpose, there were no deed restrictions on the property, which was once owned by the borough fire department.

The borough will pursue any state program offering financial incentives to use alternative energy sources — such as solar — to heat the renovated building, said Kelly, who owns a solar energy business.

“That would reduce our energy costs for the next 30 years,” he said.

Having exhausted its options, and with scant time to consider any others, the governing body decided that improving on what is has could solve the courtroom crisis and the cramped conditions. Earlier this month, the council abandoned the idea of purchasing a three-story brick structure at 3 Church Street for a conversion into a new town hall after a majority of residents objected to going into debt to buy the structure, which is situated within a flood zone.

Another option — to build a new municipal structure in the the former Peninsula House parking lot — was also shelved after the plan met with resistance from residents and state officials as being too close to the public beachfront and other proposed recreational areas.

The gym conversion “seems to make the most sense,” Kelly said.

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