PHOTOS: Ocean County Officially Reopens Cooper Environmental Center

Ocean County officials celebrated the first days of spring with a grand reopening of the Cooper Environmental Center at Cattus Island County Park.

“I am pleased to join with the people who truly love this center in cutting the ceremonial ribbon today officially reopening the environmental center to the public,” said Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who is liaison to the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “While this renovated building is stronger and more resilient to the weather, we have maintained its true purpose which is to educate and inform visitors about nature and our environment.

“This is a great day for Ocean County and I know the public will enjoy this renovated center,” Bartlett said.

The Cooper Environmental Center which houses displays of wildlife and vegetation indigenous to the area and the Barnegat Bay watershed and provides a workshop area was flooded during Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012.

“Superstorm Sandy did a job on the building and flooded it with more than a foot of water,” Bartlett said. “After the storm, it was difficult for us to determine how to rebuild the center.”

Bartlett said the options reviewed by the County included knocking it down to build a new one or raising the current structure.

“Neither of these options would work,” Bartlett said. “If we tore it down we would never get the permits to rebuild it in its current location and raising the structure would have been cost prohibitive based on the current foundation configuration.”

Bartlett said the solution was to make the building storm resistant.

“This wasn’t a simple decision but I believe we came up with an excellent plan,” Bartlett said.

The work included installing all new windows and replacing all the outside siding with a fiber and cement product to eliminate the potential for mold. The tile and carpet that was once inside the building was replaced with an epoxy-based floor.

High pressure laminate walls were installed and all the heating units were relocated to the attic and the air conditioning was raised.

“Moving items up from the ground level helps in our efforts to get the building in operational condition quickly should we be affected by another storm that causes flooding,” Bartlett said.

“Cattus Island County Park is a favorite place for so many of our visitors and residents,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari. “Reopening the environmental center just enhances the park experience for all ages.

“I want to commend Freeholder Bartlett and the staff of the Department of Parks and Recreation for all the work they put into making certain this renovated environmental center is visitor friendly and provides a great learning experience,” Vicari said.

Freeholder Virginia E. Haines noted the park was located in a great area just a little away from a busy area of the Township.

“This is a perfect location to enjoy nature,” she said. “When you are here you don’t even realize how close you are to the traffic on Fischer Boulevard. This is a park that you can come to and relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Ocean County.”

When enjoying the renovated center, visitors are now greeted with a host of new inside displays including an Interactive Habitat Tree, a large climb-in Osprey nest with informational touch screen, live viewing camera of Ospreys on the marsh, touch tank and live animal tanks, a kids’ corner with educational and interactive game books, owl identification show case display, a shell sorting and identification table, a Wentz microscope for scientific investigation and a living green wall.

In addition, the renovation work also included upgrading the facility to meet all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. And, the center’s program room was expanded to accommodate larger groups.

Lois Schoeck, chairperson of the Cattus Island Advisory Council, extended the council’s appreciation to the park staff and the volunteers.

“The staff put their heart and soul into bringing this center back from the storm,” she said. “I deeply appreciate all they did to get us here today.”

Gavan General Contracting Inc., the original contractor for the environmental center, was also the contractor for the renovation.

Ocean County is anticipating federal funding reimbursement, in part, for the work, since the building was damaged by Superstorm Sandy.

“Now that the work is done, the building is once again the centerpiece for the park and as it stands now it is much more resilient and can withstand future storms,” Bartlett said.

Cattus Island County Park has been reopened since the storm with most of its trails cleared and repaired.

A celebratory open house for the center has also been planned from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 25. The event is free and open to the public.

[Photos provided by the Lakewood Shopper]

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