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Residents in New Jersey community fight to save Tabernacle Town Hall amid officials' safety concerns

Residents rally to save Tabernacle Town Hall in New Jersey despite safety concerns from officials
Residents rally to save Tabernacle Town Hall in New Jersey despite safety concerns from officials 02:31

TABERNACLE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) — There have been peaceful protests, and signs have been placed in yards in Tabernacle Township as many people fight to save their historic and beloved Town Hall.

"People here are lifelong residents. They grew up here, they've done dances here, they've gotten married here, it's our home," said Katherine Crain, who got married at Town Hall in 1997.

For the past few months, Crain and other residents have been leading the charge to help keep the building standing after the township committee voted to demolish it during a meeting in February.

"It's very upsetting, it's sad they can so easily just rip down history," Vernetia Taylor, who has lived in the township for 45 years, said.

The building was built in 1874 by the Junior Order of United American Mechanics and was given to Tabernacle Township in 1960.

"People look to this building as the center of town. People want this building saved," said Rick Franzen, president of the Tabernacle Historical Society.

According to the township, the building has been deemed unsafe by engineers and is a threat to public safety.

The township sent CBS News Philadelphia photos, which appeared to show cracks in the foundation and the basement wall deteriorated.

Mayor Mark Hartman was not available for an interview Thursday, but released the following statement:

"As a result of decades-long neglect by previous Tabernacle Township Committees, Tabernacle Town Hall has been deemed an unsafe structure and found to be a risk to the public health and safety. The current unsafe and hazardous conditions did not occur overnight, they are the result of years of inattention. Over the past twenty years, there has been no significant preventive maintenance plan; no perseveration plan, no significant structural repairs; and no attempt to restore, preserve, or protect Tabernacle Town Hall.  The structural problems with Tabernacle Town Hall have been kicked down the road for years and now have landed squarely in the lap of this Committee. It is heartbreaking that the building was allowed to degrade into its current unsafe condition resulting in this Committee having little choice but to demolish the structure to prevent a potential tragedy. It is fiscally irresponsible to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to try to salvage a building that has been ignored and neglected for decades."

A historical photo of the town hall in Tabernacle Township, New Jersey

If demolished, the township has not decided what would be built on the land where the old Town Hall stood. 

According to Crain, the committee has discussed building a larger township building nearby, which would also cost millions of dollars.

"So today we're filing an injunction to have it stopped," Crain said, referring to the demolition.

Crain also said an online community-wide fundraising campaign generated more than $10,000 in a week to help pay an independent engineer to inspect Tabernacle Town Hall and provide a second opinion, but she claims the committee said no.

"We hired them to work for us, we pay them to work for us, and they're ignoring the plea of the people of this town," she said.

The mayor told CBS News Philadelphia asbestos removal will begin Friday, and demolition has been slated for next Wednesday.

Residents are planning another peaceful protest outside Town Hall Sunday at 11 a.m.

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