TOMS RIVER – The Cooper Environmental Center on Cattus Island is open to some traffic, but the exhibits inside are not yet completed, Freeholder John Bartlett said.
The center was flooded during Superstorm Sandy, being so close to the marshland. Now, four and a half years later, county officials have the doors open although there hasn’t been a grand reopening yet.
Whereas other buildings close to the shore were raised on stilts, this building would not be able to do that, Bartlett said. Between the foundation that was still there, and environmental regulations for being in wetlands, changing the footprint or raising the building was just not practical financially.
Therefore, the decision was made to “essentially waterproof it,” he said. The following changes were made when rebuilding the center:
The electrical outlets and switches are no lower than four feet off the ground.
The mechanical elements of the building, like heating and air conditioning, are all in the attic.
The insulation is called closed cell foam. The difference between this and normal insulation is that this kind does not absorb water. In a lot of homes flooded by Sandy, the insulation became sponges, keeping the water in and breeding mold behind the walls.
The sheathing around the building is made of cement board, which is also water and mold resistant. It’s not particularly appealing aesthetically, so vinyl siding is covering that.
The windows and doors are vinyl.
The floor is still cement, but it is covered by an epoxy coating.
Walls were made of waterproof material, even the interior ones.
There are also drainage holes inside, so that if water gets in, it will flow out.
Since the building was being remade, a few changes were worked into the final design, Bartlett said. Some of these changes were made to conform to state or federal regulations. Some were made because the staff had always wanted these changes but never had an opportunity for them.
For example, the ramp for disabled people was lengthened. Additionally, the restrooms were remade to be accessible to people with disabilities. They will also now be open to the outside, so patrons of the park can use the facilities even when the center is closed.
“Sandy, to me, was not the portent of things to come,” he said. It was an amalgamation of several factors that might never happen again. Still, it is good to be prepared.
The building had a soft opening, he said. Some small groups have come in, but it is not yet in full use. The display cases are not done yet. Custom-built display cases being worked on by the parks department.
The cost of the project was approximately $940,000, he said. Part of that will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the exact amount is yet to be determined.