HATFIELD BOROUGH — Monday night marked the start of a new era in Hatfield Borough, one that officials hope lasts at least as long as the prior one.

Borough officials, combined with state and local lawmakers, ceremonially cut a ribbon marking the completion of the borough's new municipal building — all following one new rule established by Borough Manager Mike DeFinis.

"The first day we were open, someone spilled their coffee on the brand new floor ... right before I got to announce the rule that there's no food or drink in your workspace," DeFinis said.

"We have a lounge now, that's where you go. But the minute before I got to make that announcement, someone spilled their coffee," he said.

Monday night's ribbon cutting ceremony marked the end of a process that dates back nearly half a century, when the town's offices were flooded by rain from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and council members at that time decided to move into converted garage bays in a former public works building.

Council continued to meet, and staff continued to work, in the aging building with outdated utilities and minimal space until 2016, as council debated and finalized plans for the building that started construction in spring 2018, and that formally opened Monday.

"We had a vision, and you have to put that vision on paper. You have to give that vision to a contractor, and where you stand tonight was our vision," said former councilman Ken Farrall.

Ahead of a formal ribbon cutting, council President John Weierman thanked borough staff for their patience in working in temporary offices for the better part of three years, and the consultants and contractors who helped design, plan, and build the new facility. The roughly $4 million building has a total of 9,500 square feet of offices, public and private meeting rooms, secure entries, dedicated windows for each borough department, and a public meeting room on a second floor accessible via two stairways and an elevator.

"It's not a big building, it's not a huge building, but it manages the programs that we have, for the residents of Hatfield Borough," Farrall said.

Mayor Robert Kaler III said it's a major upgrade from the offices prior to 1972, when staff carried all of the town's records in briefcases to and from every meeting. Kaler said getting the project done without raising taxes is a credit to council and the community.

"We didn't have to raise taxes. You've got to remember, this is a Pennsylvania Dutch community: you didn't spend a nickle unless you had a dime. So we're very frugal, and it came out real well," Kaler said.

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st, sent the borough a flag and proclamation to mark the opening, and State Sen. Maria Collett, D-12th said the building is a sign the town has come a long way since its incorporation in 1898.

"Even though it maintains its small-town charm and sense of community, the borough has come a long way since then, and this new complex is just the latest example of growth and revitalization," Collett said.

"The significance of local government to Pennsylvania's residents is often overlooked, and I hope the people of Hatfield Borough — I know they will — take advantage of this new resource," she said.

State Rep. Steve Malagari, D-53rd, recalled a tour he received from DeFinis during a winter visit to see the building under construction. 

"I remember having to drive down here through a mud pit, I thought I was going to get stuck," Malagari said, gesturing to a newly paved driveway and replanted lawn outside the building.

"The building looked great then. It looks a heck of a lot better now. Holy crow, this is fantastic, and it's finally great to see the finished product," he said.

Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence said the ribbon cutting marked a personal milestone, as the first facility where he was invited to both the groundbreaking at the start, and now the end of construction.

"We are going through a revitalization of some of our county facilities now, so I know the hard work you had to go through to get this done. And to do it with no tax increase is truly amazing," Lawrence said.

Growing up in Towamencin, Lawrence said, he used to frequently visit friends in Hatfield Borough, and now as an elected official he enjoys the township's trail network, noting the municipal building is located just off of the borough's portion of the Liberty Bell Trail.

"I'm a trails guy. I love to get out on the trails, and Hatfield Borough has some of the best trails in Montgomery County, hands down. Don't tell anyone I said that, though," he said.

Outside the building, residents mixed and mingled with borough officials in a freshly paved parking lot, which now runs along the new building toward a new rear lot with added employee parking, separate from public spaces in front. Just east of the new building and driveway, a wooden fence and retaining wall now separate that driveway from an adjacent creek, a feature meant to improve drainage from the site.

Before the doors of the building opened and residents poured in for tours, Weierman noted one local official who couldn't make the ceremony. Len Perrone, the borough's first manager from 1979-89, was unable to attend due to a health issue, but sent a letter congratulating council and the town's residents.

"I had the pleasure of working for a council who maintained a single, simple vision. That mission was, to govern in the best interests of its residents and taxpayers, and to always do the right thing on their behalf," Weierman read from Perrone's letter.

"As I think we've tried to indicate this evening, that mission has continued," he said.

Once the doors opened, residents filed through the new vestibule, monitored by security cameras and leading to service windows with microphones and bulletproof glass to ensure employee safety. Down one hallway were offices for staff, and Farrall noted each employee now has plenty of space, and no longer has to share.

"For so many years, we had three employees in one office, and three in another one, and it's very difficult to get work done. You'd have to clean your desk off every night, lock everything up — it was just difficult, but they did it for us," Farrall said.

Two stairways, wide enough to comply with current regulations, led from the first floor up to either side of the new council chambers, where new nameplates and microphones sat on a dais, facing roughly 50 seats for residents, all with a view of a state-of-the-art projection system showing a time-lapse video of the building on one wall — and a view of the outside lawn and trail connections on the other wall.

"Government is rarely glamorous, and the people on the front lines of local government, who receive countless complaints about potholes, code violations, local electric, and more, are dedicated people who create all of the good things that come out of the borough," said Malagari.

"This wonderful space is the doorway to all that Hatfield Borough has to offer, and I hope that you will also have many happy, prosperous years working here."

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