Howell council kills plan to buy corporate center

Mayor says environmental issues must be addressed at current municipal complex


HOWELL — Township Council members have abandoned a plan to purchase the Global Corporate Center on Route 9 and convert it into Howell’s new municipal complex.

Residents in the audience applauded that decision when Mayor Robert F. Walsh made the announcement at the April 6 Township Council meeting.

“The governing body has decided not to pursue the purchase of the Global Corporate Center,” Walsh said bluntly.

Officials said a recent $1.8 million reduction in state aid that will hit the township this year was the catalyst for the decision to drop the idea. Instead, the municipal complex will remain in its aging facilities on Preventorium Road.

Walsh said he still believes buying the Global Corporate Center is “the right thing for the future of Howell.”

“But the bottom line is today we cannot look at laying off police officers and buying another building in the same year,” said the mayor, who had recently called the 100- year-old Preventorium Road municipal complex “medieval.”

Walsh said the Global Corporate Center purchase would not be a topic of discussion at that evening’s meeting.

“If anybody is here to discuss it, it will be a one-way discussion,” he said.

Officials noted that 16 patrol officers could lose their jobs and four sergeants could be demoted to patrolman this year to make up $600,000, one third of the $1.8 million decrease in state aid.

“We do not want to lay off one police officer,” Walsh said in a later interview. “There are many other options so they would be able to keep their base salaries.”

Officials said they could have purchased the 90,000-square-foot Global Corporate Center from its owner for $8 million and moved most of the township’s operations to the site on Route 9 north near New Friendship Road.

The commercial building has been reported to be assessed at $14.6 million. Howell would have needed at least another $2 million, including $1.5 million in renovations and another $500,000 in “soft” moving costs.

The governing body’s decision to stay put for now means that some major environmental issues in town hall and the other buildings in the municipal complex will still have to be taken care of, the mayor said.

“From what I have seen so far, we are going to have to address the same issues,” Walsh said. “Much more will have to be looked into.”

The township hired Accredited Environmental Technologies Inc., Media, Pa., in December to conduct hazardous materials inspections on town hall, the engineering building, the recreation building and the fire prevention district building.

The consultant’s report detailed an array of environmental problems in all four buildings, including asbestos, mold and leadbased paint.

AET offered three options for remediation and renovation costs for town hall. It would cost $310,000 to address all the asbestos, lead paint and mold problems, if the township retained ownership of the building.

The firm estimated it would cost Howell $425,000 to remediate and renovate the recreation building: $375,000 for the engineering building; and $480,000 for the fire prevention building, according to the report.

Councilwoman Pauline Smith last month said residents should have the final say in a referendum on the Global Corporate Center purchase. Smith called the commercial building a “white elephant.”

She also faulted previous administrations for allowing the municipal complex on Preventorium Road to deteriorate over the years.

Municipal officials late last year had also considered leasing the shuttered Southard School from the Howell K-8 School District and moving the township’s operations to that location. However, council members voted unanimously at a Jan. 12 special meeting to drop the Southard School from a list of town hall options.

Howell school administrators closed the 50-year-old school in 2009 in the face of declining enrollment in the K-8 district.