ft hancock roof collapse mastPHOTO:  Building 23 at Fort Hancock

MIDDLETOWN – Future students at MAST, the Marine Academy of Science and Technology, got one step closer to having a gym on their Sandy Hook campus after the Monmouth County Vocational Board of Education and the National Park Service signed a Memorandum of Intent, paving the way for conversion of Buildings 56 and 23 at Fort Hancock into a new facility.

   Announcement of the agreement, signed Thursday, was made at the Fort Hancock 21st Century Advisory Committee meeting at Thompson Park Friday.


   “I am absolutely thrilled,” said Freeholder and Advisory Committee member Lillian Burry, who has spearheaded the idea for the new use for the county vocational school, “The Board of Freeholders and the Park Service are in full agreement to renovate the buildings for all purpose use and classrooms, and we can move forward.” Burry also noted that use of all buildings has always been a priority for the 21st century Advisory Committee, since use is the best way of preserving.

   The next step is for county engineers to draw up interior architectural plans in consultation with the Park Service, and the Service to take their steps to determine the best means to preserve the architectural and historic exterior of the buildings.”

     Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator Pete McCarthy also praised the next step in the overall plan, and said the Park Service will act after receiving the engineering and architectural plans from the county so that “we can figure cooperatively what we are doing together.” McCarthy noted the Park Service will make the determination of what can be preserved at Building 23, a former barracks when Fort Hancock was an active Army installation dating back to the turn of the 20th century, and preserve as much as possible. The building, located across from Mast Way, is severely damaged, primarily with the cave in of a large portion of the roof after a rainstorm in April,, 2015. Since then, it has been closed to the public and a fence has been installed around it. “We’re not sure of the exact scope of work yet,” McCarthy said, noting the need for more studies, “but we’ll figure it out.”

Building 56, a smaller building adjacent to the barracks, is included in the joint agreement and would be used for classrooms.

   McCarthy praised the County Vocational board for its action and noted the memorandum is a sign of “a great partnership expanding. “We are grateful they are moving forward with us in preserving Fort Hancock’s history, and are continuing the great relationship we have. This is one more step in our continuously working together.”

   As part of the overall negotiations, the building will be part of the current 99-year lease the school district has with the National Park Service through state legislation.

   When the roof collapsed during the night last year, a spokeswoman for Gateway National Recreation Area, Daphne Yun, had said the collapse was not totally unexpected, since support beams had punctured a wall of the barracks sometime the previous year.

   Earl Moore, principal at MAST, the 300-student school which is one of five highly rated schools governed by the County Vocational Board of Education, said “It's a very exciting time for the school community and district, and we can’t thank the Freeholders enough for their support. The school's need for space is clear to everyone - staff, students, and parents, and we hope to be able to utilize a new gym facility in a number of ways, including physical education and Naval Science activities. In addition to the gym, more classrooms mean we'll be able to minimize the sharing of classrooms between different teachers, in different subject areas, and better meet the standards and expectations of the communities we serve."