TOMS RIVER – It was a cold, sunny afternoon, but spirits were not chilled by the persistent winds at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Ocean County Vocational Technical School Performing Arts Academy, held outside of the Jay & Linda Grunin Center on Oct. 18.
“I can’t believe that it was just a year ago that we were gathered here as a community to announce the construction of a new, state-of-the-art performance academy right here on the Ocean County College Campus, “ mused Jay Grunin, co-founder and co-chair of The Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation, and one of the ceremony’s VIP guests. “Here we are today, with construction well underway.”
Bulldozers and construction vehicles were actively working behind the scenes on the beginning stages of the new building during the afternoon ceremony.
The new OCVTS Performing Arts Academy will be a 50,000-square-foot building intended to “provide a rigorous education for creatively gifted high school students, (offering) majors in theater, vocal, dance, and audio engineering,” according to their press release. The construction of the building is already underway, and is expected to be completed by December 2019.
Dr. Jon Larson, OCC President, kicked off the ceremony by stating that arts education “aids students in developing skills needed in the workplace,” such as flexibility, development, and communication.
Something special about this innovative new building: it will provide students with credits for college. In collaboration with OCC, OCVTS’s early college program will allow high school students to graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from OCC at the same time. Students will be exiting high school already halfway to a bachelor’s degree, all for a fraction of the tuition cost of a university degree.
“This is a good deal for everybody,” said Larson to rousing applause from the crowd and present performing arts students.
The PAA is a four-year public high school, currently located at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. When the announcement of the new academy was made last year, it came as welcome news. The current location is distant and difficult to get to and from. This new facility would put students right on OCC’s campus; it is being built in a section of Parking Lot 2, just in front of the Jay & Linda Grunin Center.
Not only will performing arts students get the advantage of a new, centrally located building, but OCC students as well, according to Larson. The facility will also be used for classes at night.
Ocean County Freeholder Joseph Vicari, also liaison to OCC, spoke of the potential for opportunity with the new building during the ceremony. “The young ladies and gentleman that are here today have tremendous opportunities that didn’t exist [before],” he said.
Although the PAA started out as a small group of students, it has grown to approximately 203 students today. OCVTS officials expect this number to grow greatly once the new academy is complete.
“In my 37 years as a county freeholder, this is one day that I will always remember because we’re making the future,” Vicari added.
The Performing Arts Academy is a federally recognized Blue Ribbon school, according to OCVTS superintendent William Hoey; and relocating the students to a state-of-the-art building will give it even more potential.
Although the idea has been floating around for some time to build the new facility, it finally came to fruition when The Jay & Linda Grunin Foundation made a multi-million dollar donation to the cause, said Hoey. The project will be funded by the state for $10.6 million, Ocean County and the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation will each contribute $8 million, and OCC will provide $2 million.
“PAA students will have access to the college gym, library, several classrooms, the student center, and most importantly, the theaters,” said Hoey, noting that OCC students will also have access to the new facility for night classes, “making it an excellent use of taxpayer dollars.”
Not only will PAA students be studying in a state-of-the-art facility, but they will also receive a great education that will encourage them to develop their own unique needs of expression, “capturing the passions and emotions, and allowing them to explore new ideas, subject matter, and cultures,” said Grunin.
Grunin stated that the PAA project aligns with the “three pillars” of the Grunin Foundation: arts, education, and healthcare.