College breaks ground on a building for disabled students

Posted: October 23, 2013

SEWELL The carefully arranged mound of light brown dirt required little digging.

In the latest ceremonial groundbreaking Monday, Gov. Christie, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, and local officials marked the symbolic beginning of a new building on the campus of Gloucester County College in Sewell to help disabled students move into college life.

The site where construction is expected to begin this month on the $4 million project is several blocks away on an overgrown field. So officials tossed a few shovels of dirt onto a brick sidewalk outside the Eugene J. McCaffrey Sr. College Center.

The 14,550-square-foot building will house the Adult Center for Transition program for special-needs students. The ACT program helps close the loop between education and vocational services provided to disabled students after they leave high school.

"We all want our children to reach the fullest of their God-given ability, whatever that is," Christie told a crowd of about 150 people. "This is going to help students develop all of their potential."

Slated for completion in 2015, the facility will enroll about 50 students, double the program's current enrollment, officials said.

The project is being fully funded from the state higher education bond approved by voters in November. It is one of 176 higher education infrastructure projects that will be funded partly or wholly.

"This is an exciting day for the college, the residents of Gloucester County, and especially for our students with disabilities who have aged out of the K-12 educational system," Gloucester County College president Frederick Keating said in a statement.

Monday's groundbreaking had special meaning for Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and his special-needs daughter, Lauren, expected to enroll in the college in the fall. She joined her father at the lectern and affectionately embraced Christie.

Sweeney spearheaded creation of the ACT program in 2009. At the time, it was the only program of its kind in the state for disabled students ages 16 to 24 who had few options after leaving high school.

"This type of program needs to be replicated across the state in an enormous way, because everyone's born with a gift, everyone, and everyone's gift and dream should be able to come true," Sweeney said.

In his second year in the program, Chris Beck, 20, of Swedesboro, said he began taking college courses after graduating from Kingsway High School but was overwhelmed and had to withdraw. He said that the program had boosted his confidence and that he hoped to enroll again in the spring.

"I have made many new friends and I feel I am more mature," Beck said. His family said everything changed for the better for him when he enrolled in ACT. He even recently landed a job.

The groundbreaking is among a half-dozen Christie and Sweeney have attended throughout the state this election season. Earlier this month, the pair attended a groundbreaking at Rowan University for a $71 million engineering building. Last week, they were at Rutgers-Camden for a groundbreaking for the Nursing and Science Building. Unlike some of the other projects, bids have been placed for this project and plans drawn, officials said. Once the funds are released, construction is ready to begin, they said.

Christie and Sweeney praised the bipartisanship that made the Adult Transition Center possible. Christie said he hoped that voters would see "that every once and a while we get it right."

The governor made no public comment on a topic that divides the two: same-sex marriage. Christie rushed past reporters without answering questions about his administration's decision to drop its appeal of the state Supreme Court's ruling allowing same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

"I'm glad he chose not to continue to fight over it," Sweeney told reporters. "It's over. This has been way too long coming."

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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