TOMS RIVER – When the chorus took the stage, dozens of their peers in the crowd burst out in applause and shouting.
There was an excitement among the kids, cheering on their fellow students in the Vocal Ensemble. They were performing in front of local officials who were officially announcing the eventual construction of the Performing Arts Academy on the grounds of Ocean County College. Their songs and dance number was just a preview of what was to come when the school finally finds a home there.
Currently, the academy is stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. The school is distant from everything else, and difficult to travel to and from. The new school would be built in front of the current Jay and Linda Grunin Center. Ocean County Vocational Technical School Superintendent William P. Hoey Jr. said that the grounds between the center and parking lot will be extended, taking up some of the parking, for the building. The building will be used by college classes at night. The academy will allow performing arts Vo-Tech students to earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s Degree at the same time.
Hoey told a story of walking through the halls of the current performing arts academy. When classes let out, kids poured into the halls. Many of them were singing. This is just something that happens when creative kids are given a chance to express themselves.
“It’s a tribute to the kind of education that they’ve chosen,” he said. And “chosen” might be the most important part of that. When kids have a hand in their own education, they are driven to excel.
It’s that kind of excitement, on display on stage at the event, that will prompt them to succeed, he said.
The Performing Arts Academy, as well as the county’s Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science, are federally recognized Blue Ribbon schools, he said. Placing the academy in a state-of-the-art building will give it even more potential.
OCC President Jon Larson said this will be a transformative experience for both schools, “making us the envy of other counties.”
Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari touted the cooperation between the vo-tech, OCC, county government, and the Grunin Foundation.
Students that will graduate from the future academy will look back at the opportunities that were given here, he said. It will provide them the training for future careers – some of which don’t even exist yet.
“Towns and cities aspire to be places where people want to live and visit. A vibrant and flourishing arts culture is certainly a way to distinguish a community from the sameness that permeates so much of our national landscape,” said Jay Grunin, co-founder and co-chair of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation.
The school will be a place for creative students to develop their own unique needs, and explore new subject matters and cultures, he said. It will also provide the skills and mindset to succeed in the 21st century job market.
“Arts education not only enhances students’ understanding of the world around them, but it also broadens their perspective on traditional academics. The arts give us the creativity to express ourselves while challenging our intellect. The arts integrate life and learning for all students, and are essential for the development of the whole person,” he said.
The goal is to be completed in December of 2019, so students could start in January of 2020, Hoey said. However, if there are construction delays, the first classes would be held in September of 2020.
There would be high school students on the same campus as adult college students, but Hoey said every precaution will be made to keep the students safe. There will be chaperones for common areas like lunch and library time. They won’t have freshmen roaming free, but the access to the college increases more as they age.
A lot of high school students are already on campus during the day and night, as OCC has been reaching out to schools to accelerate education, he said.
Financing And Naming Rights
The state will fund $10.6 million toward the funding of the construction. Ocean County and the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation will each contribute $8 million. OCC will provide $2 million.
However, there would still be the cost of programming and expansion of education that is currently done. This would cost an estimated $5 million, said Jeremy Grunin, president of his parents’ foundation. So, the foundation is kicking off a fundraising drive for this.
“We are willing to forego the naming rights” of the building, he said. A donor who would contribute $2.5 out of the total $5 million would secure the naming rights of the building.
“It is not an act of vanity but an act of leadership,” he said. Sponsoring an educational endeavor like this is meant to inspire giving in others.