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The view to the top of the statehouse rotunda. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

The statehouse is back, for the most part

Executive branch reopens after nearly six-year renovation project

By Joey Fox, March 22 2023 3:10 pm

It’s taken six years, nearly 300 million dollars, and one million hours of labor – but the New Jersey Statehouse is back, baby.

Well, mostly. The statehouse’s executive branch, which contains the governor’s office, several top cabinet offices, and a number of other key state departments, began reopening last week after a massive renovation project, though some parts of the renovation remain unfinished. And today, the statehouse press corps were allowed to see the results.

The view from inside the rotunda.

“We are on-time and under budget,” said Chris Chianese, the director of property management and construction with the state Department of the Treasury. “It was a great effort… To be able to occupy the building on time and keep our budget where it is, that’s extraordinary.”

The project began near the end of former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, with the necessary bonds sold in May 2017. By that point, the statehouse was in shambles, with glass ready to fall out of windowsills and some parts of the building close to collapsing entirely.

“We had an assessment done [20 years ago], and they were basically saying, tear the building down,” said Anthony Faraca, the executive director of the New Jersey Building Authority. “That’s how bad of a shape it was in.”

The governor’s outer office, featuring portraits of former Govs. Kean, Florio, and Whitman.

Given the severity of the building’s problems, the decision was made to initiate a complete renovation, rather than continuing the piecemeal projects that had been undertaken and proposed up to that point. While it dates back to 1792 – making it the third-oldest continuously operating statehouse in the country – the aim was to restore the building to its conditions from the early 1910s, when it expanded to its current size.

Construction properly began in January 2020, meaning that it was almost immediately beset by Covid and, more recently, inflation. But Chianese said that despite these issues, the project still kept to its original $283 million budget.

Gov. Phil Murphy and some other staffers began moving into their statehouse offices late last week and earlier this week; it’s the first time that Murphy, who took office in January 2018, has gotten to use his proper office instead of a substitute down the street. Around one-quarter of the building’s eventual occupants have already switched over, with the rest scheduled to arrive by the end of April.

The still-under-construction outer facade, seen from State Street.

There are still other tasks that lie ahead. The outer facade, which is probably the statehouse’s most recognizable feature other than its gold dome, is still under construction due to a problem discovered late in the renovation process; that work is likely to be done by the end of the year.

Even when the exterior is completed, it will only be available as an exit. A new building adjacent to the statehouse, also set to be completed by the end of 2023, will be used for admitting people to the entire statehouse complex. (The legislative side of the statehouse, including the Senate and Assembly chambers as well as the statehouse annex, remained open and largely unaffected throughout the renovation project.)

So at least for the next few months, New Jersey’s capitol will remain scaffolded and incomplete. But after decades of disrepair, Faraca said that the new-and-improved statehouse is built to last.

“This is like a new building right now,” he said. “As long as it’s maintained correctly, it will last just like any other building.”

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