MOUNT OLIVE TWP. – After eight years of planning, the area branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to finally have a new kingdom hall, replacing a facility that the religious group has occupied for 44 years in Hackettstown.
The new, 4,296 square foot kingdom hall will be built on 3.67 acres off Stephens park Road and serve about 300 members, according to Tim Conway of Califon, an elder of the congregation who has coordinated the building drive.
The plan was approved by the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Nov. 26.
Conway said the group began planning for the new building in 2004 after it was determined that the existing hall was too small and did not meet federal handicapped accessible requirements.
“We want our places of worship to be up to the standards that most of the congregants are accustomed to,” Conway said. “It won’t be large, ostentatious or showy.”
The congregation began seeking a new property about 20 years ago knowing it would one day need a larger hall. The found the Stephens Park Road site in 1968. The group received site plan approval from the Planning Board in 2004.
The group’s timing was not very good because it was the year the N.J. Highlands Act was approved and there would be eight years of delays before construction was cleared.
Conroy said the main delay in completing the plans was acquiring approvals from the N.J. Highlands Council. The council provided a waiver to the Highlands Act in November, clearing the last major hurdle for construction. Conway said he expects construction will be completed by 2014.
The hall on Parkway Drive was the Hackettstown congregation’s second home. It was designed by Fred N. Severud, a Norwegian-American structural engineer, whose projects included the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The congregation initially was in a home on Bell’s Lane in Mount Olive. It moved to the Parkway Drive building in 1968 to cope with a growing congregation of Latino members.
“We’ve outgrown the building,” Conway said.
Problems with the current location including limited parking with neighbors concerned about traffic on worship days. Bathrooms are also very small and cannot accommodate wheelchairs. The building was redesigned in the late 1980s, with added seating but that made the quarters even more crowded, Conway said.
Conway said the number of members in the Hackettstown congregation has remained fairly stable in recent years, with a mix of teenagers and young families and members in their 80s.
He said members canvass neighborhoods, passing out the organization’s Watchtower publication but the main goal is not so much to recruit new members but to speak with people about the religion.
“We do get new members,” Conway said. “Our real goal is to teach from the Bible.”