By Muriel Smith
MIDDLETOWN – “We’re a long way away from putting a shovel in the ground, but if we’re able to agree on a project plan that meets our needs, and is acceptable to all community stakeholders, it will be a huge step in the future of our program. We really can’t thank Ms. Burry and the Freeholders enough for recognizing our need for a gymnasium, and offering their support.”
That’s what Earl Moore, principal at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology at Fort Hancok said this week when he learned the Monmouth County Vocational Board of Education and the National Park Service signed a Memorandum of Intent, paving the way for conversion of Buildings 56 and 23 at Fort Hancock into a new facility.
The announcement, which was signed by all parties involved on Thursday, was made at the Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee meeting at Thompson Park Friday.
Under terms of the MOI, the National Park Service will lease the former Barracks to the vocational school district identical to how the district currently operates the 11 buildings which house the 9 to 12 grade school on Fort Hancock. The Park Service will be in control of the exterior of the buildings, the former barracks and a smaller building immediately adjacent to it, while the county’s architectural engineers will work with the Board of Education and MAST leadership in designing the building’s interior.
Freeholder Lillian Burry, who is also a member of the 21 Century Commission, has been campaigning for the building for a gym for MAST, which is the only school of the county’s five vocational schools that does not have a gym. Students, all of whom are in the NJ ROTC program while students at the school, do their physical exercises primarily on Pershing Field throughout the school year.
“I am absolutely thrilled,” said Burry, “The Board of Freeholders and the Park Service are in full agreement to renovate the buildings for all purpose use and classrooms, and we can move forward. Use of all the buildings at Fort Hancock, as much as possible, has always been a priority, since use is the best way of preserving the historic structures.”
After the announcement was made Firday, Burry lost no time in asking the Park Service to erect a sign in front of the building by Tuesday. “MAST students are graduating with their ceremony on Pershing Field Tuesday afternoon, “ she said, “wouldn’t it be nice to see a sign saying “future home of MAST in front of this expansion of their buildings?” Park service officials agreed.
County engineers will now work in consultation with NPS engineers to determine the plans and coordinate the school’s needs with the Services’ emphasis on historic preservation for the exterior.
Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Pete McCarthy said the Park Service will act after receiving the engineering and architectural plans from the county so that “we can figure cooperatively what we are doing together.” McCarthy noted the Park Service will make the determination of what can be preserved at Building 23, and preserve as much as possible. The building, located across from Mast Way, is severely damaged, primarily with the cave in of a large portion of the roof after a rainstorm in April, 2015. It has been closed to the public and a fence has been installed around it
McCarthy added “We are grateful they are moving forward with us in preserving Fort Hancock’s history, and are continuing the great relationship we have. This is one more step in our continuously working together.”