Council to discuss plan to move offices

Howell mayor says full airing of issue is on the agenda for Jan. 12 special meeting

BY LAUREN CIRAULO Staff Writer

The potential relocation of Howell’s municipal offices to the Southard School on Kent Road, Howell, has been on hold for months, but a Jan. 12 special meeting may finally result in a decision regarding the move.

Howell K-8 School District administrators closed the Southard School in 2009 in the face of declining enrollment and local government officials expressed interest in moving the town’s operations from the municipal complex on Preventorium Road to the school on Kent Road, just off Route 9.

Howell Mayor Robert Walsh and the Township Council have called a public participation meeting for Jan. 12 in order to discuss the prospect of moving the municipal offices.

“It’s a new council, so [new council members Pauline Smith and William Gotto] need to be caught up on this issue and give some input,” Walsh said. “We need to give the township residents some more time as well to give their opinions.”

Walsh said a major topic of discussion would be the township’s potential lease of the Southard School, which was a plan the governing body tabled in October due to some issues involving the New Jersey Department of Education.

“We came about that situation all of a sudden, and without the proper approvals in place,” the mayor said. “We didn’t receive confirmation from the state until three weeks ago.”

The council’s interest in occupying the Southard School began in June after a decision by the Howell Board of Education to close the 50-year-old school in the face of declining enrollment throughout the district. Pupils who would have attended the Southard School during the 2009-10 school year were reassigned to the Aldrich School on Aldrich Road.

In explaining why they might want to move the municipal offices to a new location, township officials noted the deterioration of Howell’s municipal buildings and recognized the possibility that there might not be sufficient funds in the future to fix the current municipal facilities.

By using some of a $5 million bond left from an abandoned 2005 open space land project, the move of the township’s operations from Preventorium Road to the Southard School would not result in additional debt, municipal officials said.

In September the Howell governing body introduced a $2 million bond ordinance that would presumably cover the cost of needed work at the Southard School, but that ordinance was tabled for the last time on Oct. 20 and the council will be required to reintroduce the document if it decides to move ahead with the lease for the Southard School.

Although the Southard School has been the primary focal point of the potential move, Walsh said many other options and issues will be discussed at the Jan. 12 special meeting.

“Let’s bring everything out on the table and really get to the bottom of the issue,” the mayor said. “We want to wrap this up already. We may take action immediately. All the information we need to form a decision should be there that night.”

Walsh said he has asked a firm to conduct an analysis of the current town hall in terms of physical deterioration and to estimate how much it would cost to remediate and repair the facility.

The mayor also said the council will be discussing the possibility of relocating the town hall operations to an office building on Route 9 north near New Friendship Road.

“It’s a 20-year old building and [the owner] has expressed interest to sell it to us over the past few years,” Walsh said. “The council has never entertained it as a group and has not thoroughly looked at it as an option yet.”

He said members of the governing body were planning to visit that location to familiarize themselves with the building and the property.

“We have various reports and we plan to look at all options in order to make an informed decision that will be best for the residents of Howell,” Walsh said.

At the school board’s Dec. 2 meeting, board President Patricia Blood inquired about the status of the Southard School lease.

According to Superintendent of Schools Enid Golden, New Jersey Education Commissioner Lucille Davy sent an approval letter, but township officials had yet to contact the board to confirm this.

“I hope the township keeps its commitment to the board. There wasn’t a signed lease, but we certainly had a handshake agreement,” Blood said. “The township has the letter [of approval from Davy] and we made the assumption it would go on their agenda. If we don’t hear from them, we will seek other possible tenants.”

Walsh said all aspects of the Southard School approval and lease will be discussed at the special Township Council meeting that will begin at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at town hall, Preventorium Road.

Contact staff writer Lauren Ciraulo at

howell@gmnews.com.