FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders set a public hearing on a bond ordinance for planned capital and infrastructure improvements of one of the most well-known Flemington historic sites, the Historic Hunterdon County Courthouse, including its historic jail, which held then-suspect Bruno Hauptmann during the Lindbergh baby kidnapping trial.

The public hearing on bond appropriations of $3.5 million – inclusive of a down payment of $2.003 million on projects – will be held during the next freeholder board meeting July 7. The down payment of $2.003 million will come from county open space funds, specifically funds set aside for historic preservation.

If approved, the ordinance will authorize issuance of $1.457 million in bonds or notes to finance part of the costs or the remainder after the down payment. This is acting as the matching grant amount from the State of New Jersey for the historic courthouse, and it appropriates funds to go forward.

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Hunterdon County Chief Financial Officer Janet Previte noted during the freeholders meeting that the county does not intend to issue debt and have to pay it back. Since 2014, the county has had zero debt.

“It is not our intention to actually issue the debt for the bond ordinance,” she said. "We have not changed our plans to continue funding our capital program using a conservative, pay-as-you-go strategy. Although we are authorizing debt with the ordinance, the intent is not to issue the debt, and that is important to note.”

Previte said this is intended to be a multi-phase project, including both exterior and interior renovations, as well as improvements to allow for feasible ADA accessibility.

Freeholder J. Matthew Holt clarified that the projects are for the historic courthouse and historic jail, which the county Cultural & Heritage Commission had discussed as possible tourist draws along the lines of the displays at the New Jersey State Police Museum in Ewing Township. The courthouse, its jail and warden’s office sit across Main Street from the embattled and abandoned Union Hotel, which is central to the major downtown Flemington redevelopment project.

A related investment in the historic courthouse was approved by the freeholder board June 16, with a modification of the county’s contract with planning and architectural firm Clarke Caton Hintz, updating the professional services agreement of March 19, 2019, that was for $50,850, to provide the county with a conditions assessment report, construction budget and preparation and submission of a grant to the New Jersey Historic Trust.

The board noted that for the Historic Courthouse project, Hunterdon County is faced with additional engineering services as mandated by the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office, housed under the Department of Environmental Protection. The cost of the additional services required would be in a not-to-exceed amount of $228,500, and the freeholder board approved increasing the county’s contract amount to a total of not-to-exceed $279,350, with the inclusion of its previous $50,850 amount.

Hunterdon County Purchasing Agent Ray Rule explained that the architectural and engineering services are for the restoration items identified in the needs assessment.

“Additional services were identified in the architects’ original proposal, part of the original contract, and these additional services include design services, preparation of full construction documents and specifications for permits and bidding and construction administration,” Rule said.

County architect Frank Bell also provided the freeholder board with background on the two previous grants for preservation work on the Historic Courthouse by the New Jersey Historic Trust (which is under the State Department of Community Affairs) in both 2000 and 2004.

Bell noted that the county as a government entity is subject to receiving lowest “responsible” competitive bids for the architectural/engineering services for this scope of work as outlined by the needs assessment for the courthouse. Clark Caton Hintz was the lowest with offering its $228,500 fee, compared with the next lowest bidder which quoted an amount of $350,000, Bell said.

He added that both firms that bid are experts in the field and qualified by the New Jersey Historic Trust for these architecture and engineering services.

“The Clarke Caton Hintz bid also results in about $100,000 savings over the higher contract bid,” he said. “I am recommending CCH because they have the most reasonable rate, they have extensive experience with the Historic Trust, they have worked successfully with Hunterdon County on historic preservation projects and they were also successful in writing grants towards our projects in a sum of over $1.5 million.”

In February, the county Cultural & Heritage Commission received a third grant award for the historic preservation, capital work and upkeep of the historic courthouse in the amount of $747,000, which Hunterdon County must match with the project.

“The county applied for and received its third grant award from the New Jersey Historic Trust with $747,000 to preserve and restore the Historic Courthouse for Phase 1,” Bell said. “With the previous grants from 2000 and 2004, the county has received over $2,250,000 in grant funding, including this round. The work proposed for this Phase 1 of grants will be for interior repairs and upgrades, window weatherization and repairs, roof patching, exterior stucco repairs, a security system to protect the occupants and historic displays during exhibits. The New Jersey Historic Trust requires a certified and qualified architectural firm with extensive knowledge in historic preservation to prepare the design, bid and oversee the work of the contractor.”

Freeholder John Lanza spoke about the appeal of the courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its presence on Flemington’s Main Street in “the heart of the county seat.”

“The Hunterdon County Historic Courthouse is the most noticeable and recognizable building in our county seat,” he said. “Infrastructure improvements such as the upkeep of our historic courthouse are both vital to maintaining this historic structure and to regional tourism when it does return to the county. The specialized architectural firm (Clarke Caton Hintz) has worked with Hunterdon County on the project previously, and it was a good experience. They were instrumental in helping us gain the latest New Jersey Historic Trust grant award, which is quite significant.”

“I appreciate the continued preservation efforts of our county architect Frank Bell and from our Department of Planning, Economic Development and Land Use and executive director of the Hunterdon County Division of Culture & Heritage Carrie Fellow, in making sure our county has the best architectural firm working on this project,” he added.