SPARTA n Township officials insist that construction delays on the new municipal building, scheduled to be completed almost nine months ago, won't lead to unexpected costs for Sparta taxpayers. Township manager Henry Underhill said a bonding company is actively seeking a replacement for Horizon Contracting of Union County, which began work on the $5.2 million project more than a year ago. The building had been scheduled for completion in November 2004. A fall completion is now anticipated. "It's a time train, not a money train," said Underhill. "The good part is we're able to stay in the building. We do not have to pay any rent and forego any services. But we'd just as soon be in the new building." Underhill expects a new contractor to be hired by the end of this week. He said the bonding company, Atlantic Mutual Insurance, is not bound to state law in choosing a contractor. Meanwhile, Underhill said the township is negotiating a "takeover agreement" with Atlantic Mutual Insurance to finish the project. "It is costing aggravation," said Underhill. "The main thing is to get a new contractor and get them back working. It's not costing the township any more than the original contract. That's why we include a bonding agent." Underhill confirmed that liens have been filed against Horizon Contracting, which had trouble paying vendors and coordinating schedules with trade workers, including J.G. Schmidt, which performed steelwork on the building. The company has since ceased operations at the site. Underhill expects the township to collect damages in late fees at the end of the contract. "We're keeping track of what's out of pocket," said Underhill. "You never know if you're going to run into problems. There was no indication with the contractor (Horizon Contracting) we had." Anthony Imbimbo, the township purchasing agent, said the bonding company is required by the state to insure that a project will be completed "one way or another." Delays in construction had forced township employees to work in the existing 100-year-old building through the winter, and endure a faulty heating system, leaking roof when it rained, termites, and overcrowding. Officials of Horizon Contracting said weather and its effects on delivering materials had been a major factor for falling behind schedule. Underhill said the company might have underestimated inflation and the escalating cost of materials. In October and November, the construction site was picketed by union tradesmen over Horizon's use of non-union members on the project. When completed, Underhill said, the new 35,000 square-foot municipal building will be twice its original size,featuring a new security system; the police department will have state-of-the-art facilities; the courtroom an expanded capacity to seat 100; and visitors access to "one-stop shopping."