A New Jersey appeals court on Thursday refused to block the projected $300 million renovation of a section of the Trenton Statehouse housing the governor’s office and several executive departments.
A two-judge Appellate Division panel, in an unpublished decision, turned back an attempt by now-former Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, to halt the project.
Wisniewski, who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, had sued Republican Gov. Chris Christie in an attempt to thwart the renovation project. The suit now names Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office in January, as the defendant. Wisniewski claimed the Christie administration violated the state constitution’s Debt Limitations Clause by having the Joint Management Commission and the Economic Development Authority, both state government entities, issue bonds to cover the costs of the rehab project.
“The JMC is authorized to maintain, monitor, preserve and improve the [State House complex],” Appellate Division Judge Harry Carroll wrote. “Here, the JMC acted within its delegated authority by approving a renovation of the SHC.”
Wisniewski, an attorney who heads a firm in Sayreville, did not return a call Thursday.
Murphy’s office also did not respond to a request for comment.
Last November, Christie announced that the executive branch portion of the Statehouse, which he said was in too dangerous a condition to remain open, would be closed for four years for the $300 million renovation project. That portion of the Statehouse originally was built in 1792 and has seen no major renovations since 1958. That portion of the building houses the governor’s main office, the Treasury headquarters, the governor’s counsel’s office and the Secretary of State’s office.
The building, Christie said at the time, had a become a fire trap, with decades of documents piled up in various offices, no viable means of fire suppression, and inadequate means of escape for employees who could have become trapped in the event of a fire. Christie noted that the counsel’s office, located on the ground floor of the complex, was sinking and was expected to collapse within years.
Since the July 2017 closure the executive branch, including the governor’s office and the press corps, the entities housed there have been spread out in offices around Trenton.
The Statehouse, with its gold-plated dome, houses numerous works of art, including portraits of each of the state’s governors, and other works of art and historical documents.
The renovation project is expected to take at least four years.