STAFFORD – Work to upgrade the Ocean County Southern Service Center in Stafford Township in order to improve capacity for the county’s senior nutrition program is scheduled to get underway this spring.
“I am pleased to announce that the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded a contract for this work at our March 7 meeting,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, Chairman of Senior Services. “The changes coming to this facility will provide for a more efficient and convenient senior nutrition program, and when necessary will result in the county having an additional emergency response staging area to be used during storms or other weather events.”
The Freeholders awarded a contract to Ranco Construction, Inc., of Southampton for $950,500. The work is expected to be completed in 180 days once the notice to proceed has been issued.
“We anticipate having a pre-construction meeting at the beginning of April at which time we will be able to determine an actual start date and target date for completion,” Vicari said. “We are looking forward to advancing this project especially for the seniors that rely on this facility.”
The work will include reconfiguring the inside of the building, which was once used as a gymnasium, to provide 2,000 square feet of additional service area for the county’s senior nutrition program allowing for expanded meal preparation.
“We will expand the current kitchen on site,” Vicari said. “The county’s senior nutrition program provides more than 1,100 meals daily for our senior population.
“This program serves as a lifeline for many of our elderly residents living alone. It helps them maintain their independence and the volunteers and drivers help provide a daily wellness check for many seniors that can no longer get around on their own,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little. “Nutrition support is a key ingredient to good health for older adults.”
Seniors in the county’s congregate nutrition program from Lacey Township south to Little Egg Harbor use the nutrition site at the Southern Service Center.
Vicari noted that socialization, recreation, educational programs and health screenings will be offered at the nutrition site.
“These programs provide great benefits for our seniors, especially those who are frail and in need,” Vicari said. “It is less expensive to provide food for one-year for a senior then it is to cover the cost of a day in an emergency room.”
The upgraded facility will include a renovated senior nutrition site that will hold over 200 people. The project includes better storage facilities, expanded administrative space for client services, and more refrigeration.
“When completed, we will see easier and better handling of food from kitchen to delivery truck to patrons,” Vicari said.
The project also includes lowering the ceiling of the facility and the installation of sprinklers – a major safety upgrade. The lowered ceiling will make acoustics better for older adults and at the same time creates storage space to accommodate shelf stable meals and paper goods. The shelf stable meals are distributed in weather emergencies or extended holidays.
“We make every effort to assure our seniors do not miss a meal – no matter the weather,” Vicari said.
The county’s plans will allow for the expansion of the county’s meal production capability in the south along with consolidating staff and resources to the one location.
“At the same time, this project will create a more efficient, centralized operation, with better opportunities for cost control and decreased waste, and create one production location to enhance communication for both staff and consumers,” Vicari said.
Community Services Inc., the county’s senior meal provider, during renovations, will continue to produce the meals for seniors at the Ocean County Northern Resource Center, Lakewood. In addition, a smaller congregate site will continue to operate at the Southern Service Center during the work.
“There will be no interruption in this service,” Vicari said.
When needed, the expanded facility will act as an emergency center with updated communication technology including television monitors and a projection screen. In addition, the building will be powered by two generators during power outages.
Vicari recalled the facility played an integral role following Superstorm Sandy. “The Southern Service Center became a focal point in the county’s efforts to assist residents in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012,” Vicari said. “During the days after the storm, the National Guard was housed at the facility. It also became a one-stop center housing programs to help displaced residents along with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
“Seeing the benefits it provided at that time led us to conclude it would be invaluable should we be hit with another storm or natural disaster,” Vicari said.
The County originally opened the Ocean County Southern Service Center, located at the corner of Routes 9 and 72 in Manahawkin in 2011 to provide residents of the southern portion of the county with the opportunity to access some local senior services programs and the services of the Ocean County Clerk.
Other services like the Ocean County Surrogate and the Veterans Services Bureau are available by appointment at the center.
“This facility plays an integral role in the delivery of our services and programs to residents in the southern area of the County,” Vicari said. “I look forward to the completion of the renovations which will result in improvements to our senior programs.”