New Jersey's statehouse building, part of which dates to the 1700s and was called a fire trap, is once again open after a renovation spanning almost six years and nearly $300 million in taxpayer money.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and his administration began moving back into the building last week, and work remains to be done on the building's façade. It's unclear when exactly the public will once again have access to the executive wing of the building, where the renovations took place.
That work revealed giant skylights that were entombed under years’ worth of added plaster ceilings, with huge nets to catch falling pieces of debris and garbage bins to capture leaks from rainwater.
The skylights have been restored to functional use, and the building made to adhere to how it looked in the early 1900s, when the last major addition was made.
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Other changes include the addition of modern sprinkler and fire alarm systems, new heating and air conditioning, a hand-dug foundation that the building previously lacked, internal fire escape stairwells to replace exterior versions that were falling down, new windows and numerous cosmetic changes.
The building previously had cracked paint and exposed wires, window units for air conditioning and steam heat for the winter that frequently malfunctioned.
Around the building on Tuesday, state workers settled into their new workspaces.
State Treasurer Elizabeth Muoio was among them, still sorting through boxes and unhung picture frames.
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She discovered, she said, that a photo someone had given her of former President John F. Kennedy speaking from the statehouse reflects the current view from her new office window.
Former Gov. Chris Christie announced the project in late 2016, saying the project was needed because the building was unsafe — he called it a "fire trap" at the time.
Funding was secured in May 2017. Soon after that, three years of work began to prepare the building for the renovation — including removing asbestos, layers of paint and numerous drop-ceilings, walls and other fixtures.
The renovation stage took another three years and meant Murphy was displaced to a nondescript office building down the street, and school tours couldn’t wind their usual routes through the ancient building.
Murphy was eager to get back into the building, mentioning that renovation was nearly complete in his budget address earlier this year.
"It took hard work to build this capitol. It took more hard work to rebuild it," he said. "And that is a most New Jersey story."
There's still more work to be done, including the shoring up of a portico in the front of the building, which remains obscured by beams and wood planks. An external security structure, to screen visitors, is also still being worked on.