By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
There isn’t much to Rumson’s Department of Public Works building a narrow, bland concrete stretch of garage bays with a couple of offices behind borough hall.
One of those offices belongs to director Mark Wellner, where warmth is generated by a space heater next to his desk. When he steps out, he’s in the department’s conference room, which also happens to be the kitchen consisting of a microwave and small counter and, during snow emergencies, a bedroom for a dozen or so on-call employees who try to catch z’s on one of a few used couches picked up curbside over the years.
“Sometimes, you’ve got a guy laying on the table with a blanket trying to get some sleep,” he said.
Attached to the conference room is a closet of a bathroom, with one toilet and a sink behind a rickety door.
“No room for the guys to even wash their hands,” Wellner said.
There’s not much in the way of comfort and privacy for the DPW guys, that’s for sure. So it must’ve been frustrating to watch last year when the borough built its pristine, $5.77 million government offices building right in front of the public works structure that went untouched in the 56 years since it was built.
An outpouring of public support for the department last October kept the budgetary axe from falling on a half-dozen DPW trash collectors, at least for the time being. Now, their workplace is about to get a sprucing-up.
“We were talked to in October. We knew the borough had a plan,” Wellner said.
That plan, to initiate the first major renovation of the DPW building since 1955, has started, with more to come.
Using two state grants, the borough has upgraded portions of the department’s heating and lighting system. And the council is poised to bond about $200,000 to redesign and renovate the cramped and aging spaces.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Mayor John Ekdahl said. “This is a much-needed project.”
The renovations, tentatively slated to begin in June, will include a reconfiguration of the conference room, adding new lockers and expanding the bathroom for more privacy, Wellner said. One of the bay garages, he said, will be remodeled to make more room for mechanical work on various equipment.
More heating is expected to be installed, he said, including in the conference room, which is kept warm by an ancient gas furnace “that kicks on and sounds like a jet engine.”
For the two dozen DPW workers, many of whom spend more time at the department than at home, Wellner said the improvements will be a huge boost.
“The guys are really excited,” Wellner said. “They knew it was coming. It was just (a matter of) when.”