NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The building that houses the county’s Family Court abruptly closed mid-day on July 18, as torrential rains led to flash flooding, and now officials with the state judiciary say the building will remain closed until further notice.
The news of the initial closure came at 12:19pm, but as the flood waters receded from most of New Brunswick, the word came down that the 23-year-old building would be closed “until further notice.”
“The Middlesex County Family Courthouse will be closed until further notice because of flooding issues,” said MaryAnn Spoto, a spokesperson for the court system who said that operations will be consolidated at the main courthouse a couple blocks away.
“All family court judges will operate out of the main courthouse at 56 Paterson Street, where there also will be a designated family intake area,” said Spoto.
It is not the first time that flooding has shut down operations at the 90,000 square foot courthouse on New Street, which was built by the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).
The building was closed for several months after Hurricane Ida caused massive devastation in September 2021.
Even though the area is not low-lying, like some portions of the city’s downtown, the Family Courthouse and surrounding areas have a way of collecting rainfall fast, especially during fierce storms.
The courthouse wasn’t the only building to flood in the area. TapInto New Brunswick reported the city’s counted 25 Drift Street residents who had been flooded out of their homes across the street from the courthouse.
County officials made an unusual arrangement that led to the construction of the building. DEVCO built the court, opened in June 2000, and the county is slowly purchasing it from the development corporation over the course of three decades.
The county and city governments also pay KMS Development Partners, a private company affiliated with the “Keating Companies” in Philadelphia, to manage and maintain the series of three essentially-privatized government buildings known as “Civic Square.”
Further complicating matters, Middlesex College and the city’s parking authority control other portions of the Family Court structure at 120 New Street, which occupies almost all of the block bounded by Joyce Kilmer Avenue and New, Drift, and Welton Streets.
A parking authority official on-scene at the flood indicated there were no injuries, saying that water poured in from Welton Street into the court’s loading docks and basement before spilling into the authority’s garage, where several vehicles were still partially submerged.
Welton Street was closed off and contractors from ServPro and Buist, Inc. were on-scene attempting to pump water out of the parking deck, basement and loading dock areas and into the city’s sewer system.
“Like it never even happened,” read each of the bright green ServPro vehicles, just a few feet away from where vehicle owners dried out their belongings and pumps ran non-stop.
In 2021, when New Brunswick Today was asking questions about the flood-induced closure, the county’s communications team referred some of the questions to KMS.
“As far as the building itself, it is operated by KMS Development and any and all inquiries regarding damage/loss should be directed to them,” said Kimberly Burnett, the county public information officer.
Burnett, however, did admit that the sheriff’s office—which oversees courthouse security— had suffered significant equipment losses in the 2021 flood, noting that the damages were reported to the county’s insurance carrier and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office… lost various items such as uniforms and related accessories, radios, computers, laptops, printers, cameras, a vehicle, fax machines, related desk equipment, copiers, and other items which were located in the basement of the building that experienced major flooding,” Burnett wrote in response to questions we had raised at a County Commissioner meeting.
The Keating Partners website touts the courthouse cleanup efforts in 2021 and 2022, noting that the storm led to six feet of floodwater in the basement of the courthouse, which it boasts as the state’s “first privately developed courthouse.”
“Our team was able to replace the critical components of the building and re-open the courthouse within 5 months, before many other similarly affected buildings in the area,” reads a one-page write-up on the 90,000 square foot courthouse.
It is unknown at this time what the extent of the damage is from this most recent storm. DEVCO President Chris Paladino stated that this round of flooding had reached “a couple feet in several parts of the basement.”
Keating Development Partners did not immediately respond to a voicemail message left at their Philadelphia offices.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.