By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
It’s been more than a year since employees and officials moved into Rumson’s pristine new borough hall on East River Road, but there are still a few punch-list items needed to close the book on the project.
Among them: a runner to protect the wood of a staircase leading from the lobby to the second floor. Meantime, strips of blue painter’s tape warn visitors not to go upstairs.
But the off-limits treatments have led some residents to wonder just what’s up there, and may be fueling rumors that Mayor John Ekdahl’s office is a lavish one, complete with wet bar, Viking stove and working fireplace.
Not so, says Ekdahl. Or not entirely so.
The second floor, which can be accessed by stairwells on each end of the building or an elevator in the main lobby, is where the financial offices are, along with Administrator Tom Rogers’s office. There’s also a vault that holds meeting minutes and documents dating back 100 years.
It’s also home to Ekdahl’s office, which has no wet bar, or even a dry one, he points out as he leads redbankgreen on a tour. There’s also no stove.
But there is a fireplace.
The council meeting room, on the second floor, is used for by the council for contract negotiations and other closed-door business allowed by law, Ekdahl said. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi; click to enlarge)
As Ekdahl explains it, the decision to include a fireplace came after an early architectural plan for the new building was rejected by the council as not a true replica of Memorial Hall, which it was to replace. The center of Rumson civic life since 1929, Memorial Hall was the century-old residence of Mayor W. Warren Barbour that was donated to the town in 1927.
Among the deficiencies cited in the replacement plan : it didn’t show two chimneys.
The subsequent plan did include the chimneys, one of which was to run in a wall of the mayor’s office, Ekdahl said. The council then decided to include a gas fireplace that would vent into the flue to add to the historical authenticity of the building, he said.
Ekdahl defends the decision, citing the cost of the fireplace. He said it’s a bargain-basement feature that, including the cost of installation, cost the town no more than $500.
“It’s a very cheap fireplace,” he said. “It’s probably the cheapest model they could buy.”
Ekdahl said he hasn’t used the fireplace yet.
Also on the second floor is a council meeting room, where committees meet and council members can sit down with residents or hold executive sessions, where litigation and other non-public business is discussed, Ekdahl said.
At first glance, the shiny wooden walls and doors suggest a certain level of opulence. The walls, however, are made of plywood that has been shellacked and stained, Rogers said. The doors were taken from the old borough hall, on Center Street, and cut to fit into the chambers.
As with most of the building, Ekdahl said, “we wanted to replicate as much as we could from the old borough hall.”
Up on the third floor are more offices, but most of it is now used for storage of equipment and materials. There is also a history room, which is open to the public, displaying a variety of borough artifacts and documents.
“If people want to come up and use it, like a library, then can do that,” Ekdahl said.
In the basement is police headquarters, which includes its main dispatch center, a training room, ammunition supply room and two holding cells, plus a couple of small offices for higher ranking officers.
Aside from the notion that the new borough hall is a model of excess, Ekdahl said there’s another misconception about it, that it cost millions more than initially bargained for.
It actually came in $1,500 less than the approved bid, he said, for a total of $5.77 million.
“We’re actually paying Mr. (Benjamin) Harvey (who’s company performed the work) less than the original amount,” Rogers said.
Ekdahl said the next goal is to get some improvements done to the public works building, which is behind borough hall. He admits it’s not in great condition, but wants to fix that. One project at a time, he said.
But as far as borough hall goes, “this is a huge upgrade, we think, for the residents,” he said.