HIGHLANDS – (August 13) “This is a milestone. Let’s take a good look at the building and remember it as the place where the whole community gathered in a disaster and worked together to help each other,” said Mayor Rich O’Neil as he wielded a sledgehammer against Borough Hall in a symbolic gesture marking the beginning of the demolition of the facility destroyed during Hurricane Sandy seven years ago.
O’Neil was joined by Council president Rosemary Ryan, council members Carolyn Broullon and Ken Braswell, Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso and other officials in an official ‘groundbreaking’ for demolition of the borough hall built in 1962.
Ironically the building being demolished from the 21st century storm was the one built after Hurricane Donna, Sept. 12, 1960, wiped out the former borough hall and police headquarters, as well as fire department west of borough hall at the intersection of Valley St., after the demolition of the former borough hall in Hurricane Donna, Sept. 12, 1960.
David Milmoe, Superintendent of Public Works, said the actual demolition would begin immediately, starting with removals of smaller portions before he undertakes the major portion of the building immediately after. Demolition and removal of all the debris, with dumpsters already in place, should be complete within two weeks, he said, depending on weather. The borough’s Public Works Department is doing all the demolition under Milmoe’s direction, a savings of untold thousands of dollars to borough taxpayers.
Once this demolition is complete, Milmoe said, demolition will continue on the two buildings on Route 36 just west of Miller St. which the borough purchased from the Catholic Diocese of Trenton and once a part of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church complex. One building housed the teaching sisters at the parochial school, and once the school closed, was converted to a food pantry serving the borough and Sea Bright residents. The pantry is now situated in the basement of the church. The other building, formerly the home of Earl and Minnie Morse, was converted into a Thrift Shop a shop now located at Ave. D in Atlantic Highlands.
The borough is nearing completion of the removal of all asbestos from the buildings before Milmoe can proceed with the demolition, also estimated to take approximately two weeks from tis start. Currently, the former convent is being stripped of all siding shingles because of asbestos content, and dirt piles in the adjacent parking lot are ready to be used as fill once the buildings are removed. (editor's note: The building has since been removed.)
At Monday’s ceremony, Assemblywoman DiMaso praised the governing body and the people of Highlands for always rising to meet the needs of any disaster and working together to help each other and come to swift solutions. She said the demolition of the empty borough hall will end an eyesore which is detracting from an otherwise beautiful and active main street.
Each of the council members, together with former borough Clerk Nina Flannery, who is also serving as acting borough clerk now, said the building is a milestone marking a fresh start for the borough and an improved Bay avenue. Flannery worked as both clerk and administrator in borough hall for many years.
Cliff Moore, Emergency Services Manager for New Jersey, also said the demolition is a milestone and will help make Highlands beautiful “after seven years.”
Although preliminary plans are to convert the empty space into a badly needed parking area for a main street active with local residents and visitors to its several restaurants and businesses especially on weekend, O’Neil said the site will remain vacant for a while until the governing body consults with engineers and determines the best use and design should a parking lot be the final decision.