By NEIL SCHULMAN
Interfaith Neighbors intends to build a $3 million Early Childhood Learning and Care Center for three-month-olds to three-year-olds in the West Side neighborhood of Asbury Park. An unnamed benefactor is paying all the operational costs for its first three years.
On Monday, the non-profit appeared before the Planning Board to discuss the project. The non-profit plans to build the center at 302 Atkins Ave., at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue, after demolishing the current structures there. Until several years ago, that property housed the Bridges Educational Learning Center, now closed.
Interfaith Neighbors, which was established 33 years ago, already runs a variety of programs, many of which center around young adults. The organization is also a licensed builder, with several projects already completed on the West Side including the senior center. and affordable housing developments. A lot of their activity takes place in the West Side. Executive Director Paul McEvily said Interfaith Neighbors has, through various programs, invested more than $33 million into the area, either directly or indirectly.
McEvily said an early childhood learning center is needed because there is no facility in the area which provides a similar service. McEvily told The Coaster that they realized there was a demand for caring for young children due to the workforce development and training programs they run. Many people enrolled in those classes have children and need child care.
The center would be for 30 toddlers up to three years old and infants as young as three months. Dr. Linda Eno, former principal of Biotechnology High School and Assistant Commissioner with the Department of Education, has been hired as a consultant.
Due to the benefactor, who does not want their name disclosed he said, no child needs to be denied because the parents can’t afford the center.
McEvily said that in addition to caring for children, they would be able to reach out, in a holistic way, to the parents and siblings, informing them about other helpful programs.
Architect Stephen Carlidge, of Shore Point Architecture in Ocean Grove, said that the building will be 4,800-square-feet, with two activity rooms, one for infants and one aimed at older toddlers. A secure service lobby as the entrance guarantees only those authorized can get to the rooms where the children are.
The exterior of the building is designed with squares of bright colors, designed to resemble Lego blocks. It has a bright blue awning with yellow pillars, designed to create a friendly and colorful building.
Carlidge said the building complies with all state standards for educational facilities, often exceeding them. For example, there is more square footage per child in the rooms than New Jersey requires.
The plans also call for six parking spaces for teachers on the grounds, and a 1,700 square foot outdoor play area with rubberized surfaces.
The Planning Board had several technical questions and concerns they wanted to be answered. These included more details about the lighting plan and if there was enough shading in the play area.
The board also requested a bike rack near the building. Interfaith Neighbors hadn’t wanted to include one, because they were worried it would attract teens to loiter around the building. But Asbury Park encourages biking and bike paths and thought some employees might want to take bicycles to work.
The hearing will continue in November. McEvily said he thought they have been “well-received” and described the remaining issues at technicalities.
Interfaith Neighbors is currently in the process of disconnecting utilities at the existing structure. Within six weeks, it will be demolished.
Assuming the board gives approval, they would like to start construction in early 2022. Given the current backlog of construction projects they can’t be certain how long it will take, but “We would like to be in a position to open the doors in the latter part of 2022.”
“It’s a very exciting project for us,” McEvily said. “I’m very optimistic.”
At the board hearing, he also said that Interfaith Neighbors is planning a preschool for 4- to 5-year-olds on another property.