Construction Began on Atlantic Cape's Cape May County Campus
Following final approval from the state Dept. of Environmental Protection, Atlantic Cape in Oct. 2003 gave authorization for construction to begin on the Cape May County Campus in Middle Township.
Hessert Construction of Cherry Hill, which was awarded the $12.3 million project in late July, and had 530 days to complete the project by April 2, 2005.
"I am pleased and gratified we have overcome all obstacles to beginning construction," said Dr. John May, Atlantic Cape president. "We are now looking ahead to providing the best courses for the residents of Cape May in their new facility."
Environmental fencing, as mandated by the CAFRA permit, was installed. The site survey was complete, the land was in the process of being cleared and construction trailers were on location for work to begin on the Cape May County Campus.
Court Upholds Site Choice
The Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division ruled Oct. 6 that it supports Cape May County's decision to divert parkland in Middle Township to build Atlantic Cape Community College's Cape May County Campus.
Several environmental advocacy groups had appealed the county's decision and asked the court to overturn approvals by the New Jersey State House Commission and the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. They argued that Cape May County's analysis of other sites for the campus did not meet state requirements and that the agencies should not have agreed there was no alternative to a Green Acres land swap. The court ruled there was no merit to those arguments.
As part of the land swap, Cape May County spent $500,000 to purchase and protect additional parkland in the county.
College Officials, Residents Broke Ground in October
State, county and college officials ceremonially broke ground at the 29-acre site in Middle Township on Oct. 3, 2002.
Gov. James McGreevey addressed the crowd, which was welcomed by Daniel Beyel, director of the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and Dr. John T. May, then Atlantic Cape president. Other speakers included State Sen. James S. Cafiero, Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, Middle Township Mayor F. Nathan Doughty, Atlantic Cape Board Chairperson Barbara Chojnacki and 4-H Foundation President Wendy Seaman.
May told the audience: "The college community, along with Cape May County, takes great satisfaction that we're now able to begin the physical realization of a decades-long dream for Cape May County citizens. We look forward to moving ahead promptly with construction of the full-service campus and being able to offer Cape May County a wide range of educational offerings."
On Sept. 19, 2002, the New Jersey State House Commission unanimously approved Cape May County's request for a Green Acres diversion for the site of Atlantic Cape Community College's Cape May County Campus in Middle Township. Receipt of the diversion was the last major approval required before construction can begin on the project.
The land was appraised at approximately $490,000. For the "diversion" or swap of land, Cape May County offered to dedicate new open space land worth $150,000 and set aside $500,000 from its general fund to purchase additional parkland to be identified in conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The establishment of a full service campus was promised to the citizens of Cape May County when Atlantic Cape Community College was established in January 1999. The new college was created in a jointure agreement between the former Atlantic Community College, Cape May County and Atlantic County. Until that time, Cape May County was the only county in the state without its own or a shared community college.
Site selection work began immediately after the jointure approval, and by April of 1999, after a public process to solicit comment on 19 potential sites, the Middle Township location was chosen by the county and the college.
Its access to major roadways, centrality to the county's population base, proximity to other educational and county facilities and availability of sewer and water were all factors cited in the site's selection.
Green Acres Diversion: How it Works
To build on Green Acres designated land, a "diversion" must be requested and other equivalent open space must be set aside. Although the proposed college site was not purchased with Green Acres funds, it was "bundled" with an adjoining parcel, a 4-H property that was bought with Green Acres monies. As a result, the county applied for a diversion of this property plus one acre of land the DEP recommended for an entrance to the campus for environmental reasons.
In February, the Department of Environmental Protection approved a critical application sought by county and college officials under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act.
DEP began its CAFRA review last year and, after receiving supplementary data on the project and holding a public hearing, signaled that the application would be approved. February's action formalized environmental approval to build the campus in a coastal zone, but with restrictions. The restrictions mandate a ban on future development of 18 acres of the 29-acre site and changes in the plan to protect threatened and endangered species inhabiting the site. The college completed to the satisfaction of the agency.
College, Freeholders Remained Committed To Site
County freeholders chose the 29-acre site on Cape May Court House-South Dennis Road in 1999 and both they and college officials remain committed to it as the most appropriate location for the 65,000-square foot campus in Cape May County. The process of acquiring various state approvals delayed the start of 17 months of construction. A major environmental hurdle was overcome early this year when DEP awarded a permit for construction in a coastal zone under the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act and endorsed a wildlife management plan to protect endangered and threatened species.
The architects to design the campus were selected by Atlantic Cape's Board of Trustees after interviews and evaluations of preliminary design proposals submitted by six firms. The winning team is a consortium of two firms with splendid track records in designing educational facilities for South Jersey. The firms are Garrison Architects, of Mount Laurel, N.J., and Duca/Huder and Kumlin Architects, of Moorestown, N.J.
Cape May County residents historically have contributed roughly one-fifth of Atlantic County's community college annual enrollment. In light of this demand, a jointure agreement between the counties seemed natural. This was especially true because Cape May County was the only one in the state without its own county college or one operated under a joint-county agreement. With the support of officials and residents in both counties, the agreement that transformed Atlantic Community College into Atlantic Cape Community College went into effect on New Year's Day of 1999. The new name was adopted the following month.
In March of 1999, the N.J. Council of County Colleges committed $12 million in Chapter 12 construction bond funding for the project. An additional $600,000 came from New Jersey Jobs, Education and Competitiveness bonding. A total of $576,000 was allocated immediately for architectural and engineering services with the remaining $12,024,000 million following quickly. Under Chapter 12, Cape May County issued the bonds but the state shares in the repayment.
Owing to delay and design changes necessitated to protect the threatened and endangered species on the campus site, projected costs rose $2.5 million to $15.1 million.
Campus Site Selection Process
The campus was built on 29 part wooded,
part grassy acres on Dennisville Road in Middle Township. Cape May County
freeholders, with the college's concurrence, selected the site from a list
of five finalists pared from 19 initial candidates. The selection process
involved a rigorous examination of such considerations as the site's size,
location, topography, surroundings, environmental constraints, and other
factors by an evaluation taskforce. Members of the taskforce represented
a spectrum of interests, including the college, environmental, county officialdom
and the public. Freeholders made their choice on the strength of the site's
clear advantages, and favorable public opinion.
Three main reasons recommend the Middle Township location over any other:
- It's a suburban setting, but close enough to commercial services to furnish students' needs.
- It's close to amenities like the Middle Township Performing Arts Center, a recreation complex, the Cape May County Park and Zoo and Rutgers University Extension Center.
- It borders 127 acres of county owned land, a buffer between campus and nearby residents and a possible site for recreation in the future.
Historically, Cape May County has contributed about 21% to Atlantic Cape's enrollment, which is demographically diverse and not easy to typify. However, studies have shown the "typical" student, collegewide, is a 28-year old female who attends part time and works part time or full time. Atlantic Cape's student body is diverse, according to a study in the fall of 2000. It showed that 69% of students were freshmen, 19% were sophomores, and 11% were not seeking a degree. Thirty-nine percent of undergraduate credit students attended full time and 61% were part-timers. The most popular degree programs are Education, General Studies, Culinary Arts, Nursing, Computer Information Systems, Criminal Justice and Accounting.