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Moorestown breaks ground on new town hall

More than five years after fire destroyed its town hall, Moorestown broke ground Friday on a 45,000-square-foot building that will house municipal offices and the township library.

More than five years after fire destroyed its town hall, Moorestown broke ground Friday on a 45,000-square-foot building that will house municipal offices and the township library.

"It's a day long in the making and long overdue," Township Manager Scott Carew told a gathering of about 30 who stood, bearing umbrellas, before a muddy field at 111 W. Second St.

Municipal offices have been in scattered rented spaces around town since the 2007 fire.

Settling on its design, size, and budget took so long, Carew remarked, that three mayors, three town managers, and two architectural firms have been involved with the project since the blaze, of unknown origin, rendered the old building uninhabitable.

Some earlier designs had called for converting the damaged building to a library and building a separate town hall that included police and public works. But with costs projected at more than $19 million, the town scaled back.

The new building was hailed by Carew as befitting an affluent town that he called "the most valuable residential community in South Jersey."

Faced in red brick, featuring two two-story wings joined by an atrium, the complex will cost $11.1 million to build in addition to about $4 million already spent on architect's fees, demolition, and site preparation.

The Township Council awarded the construction contract last month to Sambe Construction Co. of Pennsauken, the lowest of 21 bidders.

Architect Daniel Nichols of the Medford-based Ragan Design Group said Friday that his firm had sought to "express the character of Moorestown" with its design, and had chosen a red, Flemish-bond brick pattern for the facade that "referenced" the brickwork found at the Moorestown Community House, Moorestown Friends School, and the Relief Fire Company.

Flemish bond features alternating full-length and half-length bricks.

The previous town hall, made of concrete and built in the mid-1970s, was obsolete and too damaged by fire, smoke, and water to be returned economically to service, said Nichols. It was demolished in 2010.

"It's a great day for Moorestown," outgoing Mayor John Button told the gathering. "It'll be an even greater day when they open it up" in about 15 months.

Glen Walton, president of the Moorestown Library board of trustees, called it "the most exciting day" in the long history of the library, which began in 1853 when a merchant began lending books from a shelf in his shop.

"Even in this day of iPods and Kindles," Walton said, the library this year served 130,000 visitors, lent 150,000 items, and conducted 300 programs. He predicted the new building would serve as an even busier center of community activity.

Like the former town hall, the library sits between Second and Third Streets and Church Street and Washington Avenue, the same town-owned site as the planned complex. Both were designed by the late architect Malcolm Wells of Cherry Hill.

Chief librarian Joe Galbraith said the 26,000-square-foot library wing will feature a wide array of electronic equipment, including fully wired meeting rooms, 25 computer desks, and digital catalogs at the end of book stacks.

Innovative in their day, the 1975 library and town hall were built of thick concrete, Galbraith said, making them difficult to modernize. The building will likely be demolished, he said.

Walton later joined Carew, Button, and other members of the council and the library board in planting gold shovels into a mound of wet clay and ceremonially flinging earth onto the field.

Yan Girlya, project manager for Sambe, said fencing would be installed around the site on Monday and excavation would begin within days.