The gentrification of Sandy Hook

The recent flurry of articles/letters in The Hub piqued my interest. The New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium (NJMSC), a 30-year resident in Building No. 22 at Fort Hancock, certainly qualifies as the kind of educational center that the National Park Service (NPS) desires to retain at Sandy Hook. During its tenure, the NJMSC has:

• mentored more than 350,000 school-age children, their parents and teachers in NJMSC’s award-winning K-12 curricula, The Coastal Experience and A Partnership for Learning (the latter, a minority outreach program that won the USEPA Region II, Environmental Quality Award in its first year). This year alone, more than 23,000 children have attended NJMSC educational programs;

• provided more than 9,000 undergraduate and graduate students with equal opportunity to attend marine science classes in NJMSC’s Summer College Program;

• awarded competitive grants totaling more than $20 million to nearly 100 scientists to conduct innovative coastal research. These federal funds are managed through the Consortium’s New Jersey Sea Grant College Program; and

• provided the state’s lawmakers, management community and the public with up-to-date, unbiased information to enable them to make science-based policy decisions. Likewise, business people, who make their living in this coastal economy, seek this critical information to sustain the region’s economic vitality.

Here’s the conundrum. The NPS has graciously set aside Building No. 22 as separate from the proposed adaptive reuse plan proffered by the Sandy Hook Partners. Like most public institutions, especially nonprofit organizations, NJMSC operates on an extremely tight budget, with virtually no set aside for a building fund. Yet despite this, NJMSC has maintained this facility in reasonably good condition for the past 30 years, and has recently invested about $200,000 in [mostly] cosmetic upkeep. Just as Superintendent Russel Wilson commented in his Jan. 4 Guest Column, "restoring these buildings [is] an expensive proposition [that] the National Park Service could not afford."

Why does he think that the NJMSC is any better able to afford the expensive restoration/ rehabilitation of Building No. 22 than the Federal government, especially with the current economic climate in the nation? Yet he comments in a recent letter "frankly, we are looking for a firm commitment by the Consortium to rehabilitate the building facade, including the front porch within the next five years, all of the other historic structures on the parade ground will be fully rehabilitated by that time."

There should be no doubt in the minds of Park officials that NJMSC has the greatest desire to stay in our adopted home, and will do its utmost to seek funds to restore this facility. To demonstrate our commitment, NJMSC has recently prepared a restoration/rehabilitation plan and has retained the services of a respected architect to present it to the NPS. We plan to stay, and want to make Building No. 22 a showcase among educational facilities here. However, there is the distinct threat that if we are unable to meet the Park’s scheduled demand, that the NJMSC will be forced to leave the Hook. The unfortunate outcome may be that private sector interests will benefit, as Building No. 22 reverts to their gentrification scheme.

I am concerned that many other educational institutions with ties to the marine environment will face the same dilemma, potentially leaving much of the Historic District to private interests, and perhaps fewer educational uses.

Michael P. Weinstein, Ph.D.

President & CEO

Director, New Jersey Sea Grant College Program