MONTAGUE — Ceremonial gold-toned shovels overturned the first layers of soil on Saturday that will be excavated in the near future to make way for the Montague Fire Department and Community Center.


A small audience gathered and braved the cold temperatures, countered by sunny and clear skies, to hear brief remarks about the new building, anticipated for completion by the end of the year.


“The needs for the town have grown immensely,” Mayor Richard Innella said, noting when the present firehouse was constructed by volunteers 70 years ago in 1950, there were approximately 600 residents in Montague.


The current population in the township is estimated at about 4,000, Innella said.


The addition of the new community center will fill a need for functions, with options in the township now limited and the present firehouse not able to accommodate larger-scale events or meetings. Innella said the firehouse is also not large enough to store two pieces of fire apparatus, which are kept in the township’s DPW garage.


Innella thanked the voters for supporting a 2018 referendum for the firehouse, community center and emergency shelter that carried, according to results from the Sussex County Clerk’s Office, 846 to 597, for a $2.175 million bond ordinance. Innella additionally said that the project became possible by the township paying off its debt at the end of 2019; and rolled over funds normally allocated to debt payments, to help pay for the new building, without a severe impact on taxes.


“We’ve all worked very hard to move forward on this,” Innella said.


“It’s (the new building) been a long time coming and it’s well-deserved,” said Assemblyman Parker Space, R-24th Dist. “Congratulations to the dedicated men and women of the fire department serving the community, it’s a nice addition to Montague.”


Cheryl Krouse, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., said first responders have always been a top priority for Gottheimer. She presented a Congressional Certificate of Recognition to the fire department and township.


“I commend you on your dedication, public service and leadership,” Krouse read from the certificate from Gottheimer.


The Zitone Construction Co. was awarded the bid in December for $2,068,500, to construct the approximately 10,000-square-foot building.


Jennifer Jean Miller can also be reached by phone at: 973-383-1230; on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JMillerNJH and on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JMillerNJH.