Van Etten residents will soon have a new place to call Town Hall now that Van Etten Village has dissolved. The Town is currently in the process of moving its offices, courtroom and library into the former Van Etten Village offices at 6 Gee Street, in the center of the Village.
TJ Swartout, Van Etten Town code enforcement officer and head of the Van Etten Town Division of Buildings, Grounds and Maintenance, has been hard at work at the new location for the past several months, remodeling it to suit the needs of a new Town Hall.
“I think it’s going to be a great move for the future of VE for decades to come,” said Dawn Rose, who has been Van Etten Town Clerk for the past four years. “It’s a newer building. There’s better general access and more room.”
Rose said she believes that the offices being centrally located across from the Dandy gas station will give a level of visibility for the general public that the old location lacked.
“I’m always amazed how many folks don’t know where the town hall is located,” she said. “So now, to be visible on Route 34 next to Dandy, it’s going to become a staple that we’re there. The old Town Hall was a little off the beaten on Main Street; people just don’t travel that way.”
Rose is also looking forward to having more room. “I think that’s huge,” she said. “I’ll have everything centrally located; I don’t have to go to a separate office in back of the building to do billing. It will be right up front.”
She added that the handicap accessibility is also a big plus. While the old building was outdated in that respect, the new one has up-to-code doors and entryways.
“It’s a lot friendlier for folks,” Rose said.
As for the entire dissolution process itself, Rose said it is slow going. “Every time I think I’m cresting and we’re going to go downhill, [the workload] just gets taller,” she said, “but I work with great folks, the residents are all my friends and family, and we’re all working toward the same goal, so we just keep trudging along.”
The library has already moved into its new space in the front of the building on the left-hand side as you face the front of the building. One main advantage to the new library is that it has its own bathroom.
“No one will have to leave the library and go through the courtroom to use the bathroom,” Swartout explained.
On the other side will be Rose’s domain and the offices of several other local officials. Rose’s desk will be first thing people see when they enter.
The courtroom will be behind the offices and will have its own separate entrance through the back of the building as well as a newly constructed parking lot behind the building capable of fitting 30 vehicles.
Another advantage to the new location, Swartout said, is the basement, which is not finished but is functional. It provides extra square footage, putting the usable space at about 3,200 square feet, roughly 1,000 square feet bigger than the Main Street town offices.
The basement will serve mainly as a storage space where the Van Etten Town Historian can store historical documents.
The building used to be a Tan and Tone (a gym and tanning salon) 18 years ago, and it’s uncanny how the very specific layout of the building, with its various small rooms of different shapes and sizes, fits the needs of the Town so well, Swartout said.
There is a side room that used to be a virtual driving range when the building was a Tan and Tone, and Swartout said the windowless, private area will be perfect for a judge’s chamber.
Two showers will be taken out and converted into private rooms where the state’s attorney, public defenders and lawyers can meet with their clients.
Swartout said Van Etten Town purchased the old town offices in 1963, adding that while it served its purpose for many decades, it was time to move on. “It’s archaic,” he said. “It’s just old.”
In the coming years it will need about $60,000-worth of work done to update the septic system and remodel the bathrooms, said Swartout, who is a retired contractor. Rather than the Town spending money on a study to show whether or not they should move, Swartout offered to gather the information and crunch the numbers himself; when he showed the Town Board what he found, he said they were quick to agree to move into the former Village Hall.
“Moving down here and spending the money is probably going to be less than $15,000 on my end,” he said. Add the $15,000 they had to spend on a new alarm system, and Swartout said he can conservatively estimate about $30,000 in total costs to the Town.
The Town Board set up a new Division of Buildings, Grounds and Maintenance, with Swartout as the head, which meant that they would able to do the work in-house “and save a pretty tremendous amount of money,” Swartout said.
Meanwhile, the old town offices are for sale. Swartout said the Town hopes to sell it for at least $100,000.
Swartout said he made a commitment to the Town Board that he would have the new building operational by the end of October and ready to host a Van Etten Town Board meeting by the end of November.
“We’re in good shape,” he said. “I’ve made the commitment, and if I have to live down here for a couple weeks, I’ll do that.”