BARNEGAT – The demolition of the building nestled within Meadowedge Park is imminent, but local authorities have already taken proactive measures to ensure that a program for adults with special needs has a new location for its bi-weekly gatherings.
Once a private residence, the structure is in need of major repairs that township officials say are cost-prohibitive. However, the program that uses the building, which provides support and activities for adults with special needs, will not have to be disrupted.
The Barnegat Volunteer Fire Company Number One has agreed to provide access to the fire station located on Birdsall Street once the transition becomes necessary. Township Administrator Martin Lisella publicly thanked fire officials for their offer to serve as the new home for the program.
“We’re talking about major dollars in repairs on the inside and outside of the building,” said Lisella. “I believe there’s also a problem with the well and the septic would also need to be replaced.”
Plans to tear down the structure have been in the works for months. However, Lisella emphasized that his foremost concern was securing an alternative venue for the special needs program. The initial option explored was the Barnegat Recreation Center, although it was subsequently excluded due to a range of factors.
Meredith Jackstadt, a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist and the Special Needs Program Coordinator, highlighted one of the concerns regarding the recreation center. The room’s acoustics posed a challenge. Due to its dimensions, a pronounced echo is created that could potentially disrupt individuals with sensory sensitivities.
According to Jackstadt, another concern tied to utilizing the recreation center was the room’s potential to overwhelm program participants due to its size. The relocation to the fire station takes this into account.
Deputy Fire Chief Chris Velders provided assurances that the fire company is fully dedicated to accommodating the program. He highlighted the fact that the fire station’s main room includes lowered ceilings and a streamlined design. Additionally, Velders mentioned the possibility of offering access to even smaller spaces within the fire station if the need arises.
Club For Special Needs
The core aspiration of the Meadowedge Social Club encapsulates its motto, “A Place Where Everyone Fits In.” This objective drives the club’s mission to create an inclusive haven through an array of activities, such as games, outings, and shared moments of joy.
For the last 17 years, the local government has provided use of the Meadowedge property for the initiative, which is fortified by funding sourced in part through the Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities Grant from the NJ Department of Community Affairs. The $20,000 annual grant has a $4,000 match by the municipality.
Presently, the program boasts active participation from 21 individuals, spanning from ages 24-55. A waiting list underscores the program’s popularity and impact.
Rhona Levy’s son, Myles, aged 55, has been an active participant in the Meadowedge program for ten years. The news of the building’s impending demolition raised legitimate worries for her, as she contemplated the potential ramifications for Myles and his continued engagement with the program.
“The program benefits Myles in so many ways,” shared Rhona. “That includes his mental health. Without a program, I’d probably have to take him for mental health help. He really enjoys his time there. For many of those there, they’re not a family, but it’s the closest thing they have to their high school experience.”
“I know the value of recreation,” Rhona continued. “And I know the panic I’d feel if I can’t find it for Myles.”
Jackstadt and local officials remain committed to ensuring that parents like Rhoma won’t have to worry that the program will suddenly disappear. Meanwhile, like many other things, COVID-19 changed the frequency of the meetings.
Pre-COVID, the center was open four nights a week and is now down to two nights. Staffing issues resulted in the continued limitations to the schedule.
A monthly calendar provides advance notice of the activities available to program participants. This month’s highlight includes an upcoming outing to a BlueClaws game. Last month, Lefty Tavern’s own Chef Ted and his assistants showcased the art of crafting homemade pasta, culminating in a delectable and satisfying meal. Some of the get-togethers are as simple as puzzle making, game nights, or relaxing by the outdoor firepit.
“When someone with a special need or any kind of disability graduates from high school, they lose their peer group,” Jackstadt said, echoing Rhona’s concerns. “It’s really hard as a parent to set up playdates for your adult child. It’s just not feasible, and life gets in the way.”
“This works as a place for adults with special needs to have peers and make friends,” continued Jackstadt. “They can do so with age appropriate activities with the correct supervision.”
According to the deed marking the transaction, Frederick and Naomi Gerken sold the 4.5-acre parcel situated at 550 East Bay Avenue for $1.255 million. Barnegat received a substantial portion of funding from the state’s Green Acres program, which means there are certain restrictions on the property’s use.
When news of the sale emerged in 2005, historical accounts indicated that the property had previously belonged to Captain William Cox, a prominent figure in Barnegat. Captain Cox had bestowed the home upon the Gerkens as a wedding present.
Reportedly, a developer offered to buy the Gerken property with plans to build garden apartments. The Barnegat family decided to take a lesser amount from the township as it felt it would be better suited as open space.
Interestingly, Naomi Gerken was the niece of MaryAnn Cox, who generously gifted her own historic residence to the township. Currently, the Cox House is under the ownership of Ocean County, which is actively engaged in its restoration efforts.
Former Barnegat Mayor John Novak was new to the town when he was appointed as the Meadowedge Commissioner. He suggested that purchase of the land was more related to the property itself rather than the existing structure.
“It’s in a flood-prone area,” said Novak. “It’s subject to the elements and time has taken its toll on the building.”
Adjacent to the Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Meadowedge boasts a creek that offers direct access to the Barnegat Bay. A sign posted on the premises details that canoe and kayak launches are possible following the acquisition of permits from the dockmasters.
A charming gazebo, which replaced a dilapidated predecessor, now stands proudly on the premises and may be a great place for avid birdwatchers. A pond in the front entrance adds to the beauty of the property. Once the building is demolished, township authorities plan to add benches to provide a serene escape for those seeking tranquility in nature.
Barnegat has an expansive community garden within Meadowedge. A basketball court is also available for public use.
Meadowedge is one of approximately 20 properties within Barnegat that were partially acquired with Green Acres funding. One of the restrictions of the program is that the property must be open to all New Jersey residents.
“Green Acres has approved removal of the building,” said Lisella. “After we complete an environmental audit, we’ll be ready to move forward.”
No date has been set as far as the demolition and program relocation.