By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – “We’re home again,” Jennifer Macchia, director of the Spice Tree School, said with a broad smile as the children and staff entered their restored facility five months after Sandy knocked the nursery and day care facility back on its heels.
Spice Tree, 180 Church St., in the township’s Belford section, on Monday greeted its approximately 40 students, ages 6 months to 5 years old, once again at what has been the school’s location, leased from the neighboring Belford United Methodist Church, for the school’s 30-year history.
As a result of the late October storm that battered much of the area, more than three feet of water flooded the privately owned child care facility. According to Macchia and owner Lance Jordan, the tidal surges and flooding from Raritan Bay caused a neighboring creek to rise and wash through the building, wrecking the school and destroying much of the site’s equipment.
As the water receded, it left about six inches of sludge in the school’s first floor, Macchia said, and the flood caused the kitchen’s large refrigerator to float over to the other side of the room. Jordan said about 80 percent of the facility and its contents was damaged and had to be discarded or replaced.
When he saw it, Jordan said, “I wanted to cry.”
“The cribs were floating upside down,” Macchia remembered.
Jordan and the church shared the renovation and repair expenses; the church paid for 70 percent of the work to the facility. The building needed walls, flooring and carpeting, cabinets, kitchen sink and refrigerator replaced, as well as electrical work completed before students and staff could return, he said. Jordan’s share of the work came to roughly $80,000. He also had to replace the two small buses and two vans that were parked in the lot when the storm hit, he said.
With the location clearly incapable of being used for the immediate future, Macchia said the church’s board of trustees stepped up and were “instantaneously supportive,” agreeing to allow the school to use the church’s large community hall, adjacent to the main church.
“It was the Christian thing to do,” said Arliene Zaborney, president of the church’s board.
Once the electricity was restored to the location, nearly two weeks after the storm, Macchia, Jordan and his wife Joann, and the staff, set up the interim operation, with assistance from students’ families, who also provided much needed items, like high chairs and disposable diapers.
Along with that help, Macchia noted Spice Tree received generous assistance from the Middletown Veterans of Foreign Wars and other organizations, which donated toys and other items. Save The Children charitable organization donated $5,000, and Giving Nest, a North Plainfield preschool, gave equipment for Spice Tree’s small gym area, Macchia said.
On the school’s official first day this week, Macchia and the Jordans joined Middletown Deputy Mayor Stephanie Murray for the ribbon cutting and celebrated the school’s return. “It’s very moving when you see this,” Murray said, as children scampered about and operations were back. “It just makes you feel good.”
All of the school’s children have returned and for them, the returning is significant, Macchia observed, “because it brings them back to their comfort zone” and a return to normalcy. About five of the families remain displaced due to the damage to their homes, she said.
“And it is all about the children,” stressed Jordan, who has owned the school for eight years.