By John Burton
SANDY HOOK – After being tossed from their school buildings by Super Storm Sandy last year, students and staff of the Marine Academy of Science and Technology are set to move back to their Fort Hancock facility – just in time for the coming school year.
“It’s all coming together,” Anthony Schaible, assistant superintendent of the Monmouth County Vocational School District, said about the extensive renovation and repair project that the district undertook at the school facilities following the devastation last October.
This week, equipment and furniture started being delivered; items the staff and faculty were using at the school’s temporary location were already packed and were being hauled to the school’s permanent site.
Teachers were getting ready for classes at the school – better known as M.A.S.T. – scheduled to start on Sept. 9.
The school was using 13 concrete structures at the former Nike missile installation at Fort Hancock, located on the northern tip of Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook. When Sandy ripped through the area, Sandy Hook took a hard hit with dramatic damage to much of the park, its structures and infrastructure. Twelve of the 13 buildings, that the school has been using since 1981, were not structurally damaged but were flooded with anywhere from 9 inches to 3 feet of water, according to Mike McCauley of McCauley Construction who is doing the work on the site.
“We lost equipment, supplies, furniture,” Schaible said. Walls and floors on many of the buildings became covered with mold from the flooding.
The floors, walls, windows and many of the roofs had to be replaced. Water coming into the buildings meant electrical wiring, heating and cooling systems were all destroyed by corrosion from saltwater, McCauley said.
“It all had to be replaced from the top down,” he said. Everything had to be done from scratch.”
The work cost between $3 million and $4 million, Schaible said.
Even before school officials had a chance to see the damage – it took more than a week after the storm for them to be allowed access to the site – they made the decision to look for another location for the school while considering what the future would hold, Schaible said.
Officials struck a deal with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Trenton to use the former St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Keyport. The diocese had closed the school a couple of years earlier.
Monmouth County agreed to pay the diocese $30,000 a month for the space, Schaible said.
The location was and is still being used by the diocese for religious instruction and bingo and was in very good shape. “It worked pretty well,” Schaible said.
M.A.S.T. held classes there for the remainder of the 2012-13 school year.
But, there never was any doubt that the school would return to Sandy Hook. “Not going back was never an option,” Schaible said. “We were determined to be back.
“The environment of Sandy Hook is conducive to the theme of the school,” he said.
M.A.S.T. was the first county-operated career academy and one of a half-dozen it currently runs. M.A.S.T. allows students to focus on a curriculum of marine sciences and technology. The Sandy Hook location lends itself to the school’s and students’ interests. “It’s our laboratory,” Schaible said.
Coming back to the location has had an emotional pull for everyone associated with the school, Schaible noted. Teachers and students continually asked last school year about when they would return.
The pull was so significant that officials made a point of conducting June’s graduation at Sandy Hook, the assistant superintendent said.
Being onsite in the natural environment the park area offered is “part of the M.A.S.T. experience,” Schaible said.