More than four years after it was decimated by Superstorm Sandy – and after nearly as many years of planning and complying with environmental and building regulations – the Cooper Environmental Center at Cattus Island County Park off Fischer Boulevard has officially reopened.
“While this renovated building is stronger and more resilient to the weather, we have maintained its true purpose which is to educate and inform visitors about nature and our environment,” said Ocean County Freeholder John Bartlett, a longtime steward of the county parks system who cut the ribbon at an opening ceremony earlier this week. “This is a great day for Ocean County and I know the public will enjoy this renovated center.”
The building, which houses displays of wildlife and vegetation indigenous to the area and the Barnegat Bay watershed and provides a workshop area, took on more than a foot of water during the Oct. 29, 2012 storm. The county considered demolishing the building or raising it, but those plans would have been constrained either by cost or by state environmental regulations, officials have said. Instead, the plan that was put into place simply renovated and “storm-proofed” the building.
The restoration project included all new windows and replacing all the outside siding with a fiber and cement product to eliminate the potential for mold. The tile and carpet that was once inside the building was replaced with an epoxy-based floor. High pressure laminate walls were installed and all the heating units were relocated to the attic and the air conditioning was raised.
“If we tore it down we would never get the permits to rebuild it in its current location and raising the structurewould have been cost prohibitive based on the current foundation configuration,” Bartlett said. “Moving items up from the ground level helps in our efforts to get the building in operational condition quickly should we be affected by another storm that causes flooding.”
When enjoying the renovated center, visitors are now greeted with a host of new inside displays including an Interactive Habitat Tree, a large climb-in Osprey nest with informational touch screen, live viewing camera of Ospreys on the marsh, touch tank and live animal tanks, a kids’ corner with educational and interactive game books, owl identification show case display, a shell sorting and identification table, a Wentz microscope for scientific investigation and a living green wall. In addition, the renovation work also included upgrading the facility to meet all Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. And, the center’s program room was expanded to accommodate larger groups.
In December, the freeholder board awarded a separate, $460,110 contract to a Monmouth County construction firm to replace the boardwalk along a trail known as the Maritime Forest Loop, which spans approximately 1,100 feet.
A celebratory open house for the center has also been planned from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 25. The event is free and open to the public, officials said.