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Stockton Lease of Ponderlodge from DEP Pending

 

By Leslie Truluck

VILLAS — Within the coming weeks Richard Stockton College of New Jersey will gain a Right of Entry to the 12.2 acres it is leasing from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) at Villas Wildlife Management Area to create an educational center.
Stockton is finalizing a lease agreement with DEP to lease an area that includes the Ponderlodge structure and three smaller buildings.
“We’re in it for the long run and have set aside funds to make sure it’s successful. There will be an ongoing relationship with a lot of interaction and feedback,” said Stockton President Dr. Herman Saatkamp Jr.
Stockton administration, DEP officials, First District Legislature and township representatives held an information session Aug. 25 concerning the future of the property.
Once the college gains the Right of Entry, it will contract a security provider, install surveillance, seal structures and add gates, said Matthew Altier the college’s vice president of administration and finance.
In the next few months the college will put together plans for renovations. Once the lease is finalized, which could take two to six months, the college will begin work, he said.
The lease agreement also requires federal government approval, Altier added.
DEP and Stockton signed a memorandum of agreement Aug. 5, which states “NJDEP agrees to work closely with Stockton with the objective of executing a 20-year lease.”
Stockton agreed to provide shared classroom/auditorium and office space for use by the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife for environmental education.
“Stockton acknowledges that all structures in the proposed lease area will require substantial capital improvements to be used by the public and that any such improvements will be made by Stockton, not NJDEP,” the agreement states.
It notes three houses on the property are uninhabitable and require utility upgrades.
Public restrooms are included in the agreement.
Altier said the three houses will be renovated first because faculty and programs could be implemented there quickly. Faculty will live in one building and others will be learning centers, he said.
Public concerns included traffic control, water/sewer plans, use of township police and fire resources, creating buffer zone from residences, beatification and access for the general public.
Lower Township Taxpayer Association President Janet Pitts requested the township be represented in the satellite campus’s name.
DEP Assistant Commissioner Amy Cradic said the Ponderlodge project is in line with DEP habitat restoration, public access and educational goals, which are part of the department’s overall mission.
Those walking through the area may notice blue tags, which represent tree plantings as part of a reforestation effort, Fish and Wildlife Director David Chanda said.
The freshwater pond will be stocked with trout for fishing next spring, he added. No part of the lakeshore is in the lease area, therefore fishing will be permitted at all points.
He said golf-cart paths would remain intact to offer handicap-accessible trails.
“The site has tremendous potential to be part of botanical studies and a site for energy sustainability studies,” said Dr. David Carr, Stockton executive vice president.
Carr said the site could offer environmental certificate programs to bolster ecotourism and could provide counseling opportunities for small businesses interested in eco-friendly practices.
It will not be a full-branch college campus, but will offer a variety of courses, he said.
“We see [Ponderlodge] as a long-range site for sustainability studies,” said Dr. Dennis Weiss, Dean of Natural Science and Mathematics.
Saatkamp said college officials will visit the site with DEP representatives this week.
“Having Stockton come to this town will change it for the better, in concrete and abstract ways,” Mayor Mike Beck said.
He said it could instill a sense of community pride.
“We’ll be a college town.”
Contact Truluck at (609) 886-8600 ext. 24 or at: ltruluck@cmcherald.com

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