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PHOTO: Sandy Memorial installed at Robert D. Wilson Recreation Center.  photos by Allan Dean

HIGHLANDS, NJ - The town of Highlands received a new Memorial on Thursday, but many citizens are not very happy about it.  They are upset that the town never informed them about the installation of a concrete memorial structure on the beach in front of the Robert Wilson Recreation Center.

The Sandy Memorial project was installed this week through the efforts of members of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA). TCA members volunteered all the labor and material costs for the Sandy Memorial project.

The design was facilitated by Johnny Cho of the renowned architectural firm, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, the structure is an open space consisting of four slabs of concrete about 15 feet high, set like walls in a square room and capped with a 360,000 pound slab of concrete with three oculi, or holes in the heavy canopy to let in sun and rain. The "corners" of the space are open to the outside of the structure. Within the structure, benches made of Ipe wood line three of the walls. It is protected space, yet open to the elements.

The memorial replaces a 40-year old wooden gazebo that was rotted and damaged from years of storms and high water.

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PHOTO: Two 500-ton cranes lift a 360,000 lb. monolithic slab of concrete in a world record lift.  (photo Wanda Radowski / facebook)

Many residents are upset that they were not informed by the borough about the project.

They say the town should have told them about the project on the beach at the town's recreation center. Residents say they learned about it only last week when large cranes arrived to lift slabs of concrete into vertical position.

TCA, the international nonprofit trade association for the global tilt-up concrete construction industry was founded in 1986 by a group of contractors, professionals, and manufacturers with the interest of improving the quality and acceptance of tilt-up construction.

Tilt-up is a building system whereby large concrete walls are cast on the building slab or elsewhere on site and then lifted (tilted) into position.

Each year, at its annual conference, the group sets up demonstrations panels of Tilt-Up projects for its members.  For many years the demonstration projects were done on the conference site and later destroyed and removed from the site.  For the last three years, the organization has sought out projects to benefit communities in the areas they have their meetings, according to Mitch Bloomquist, Managing Director of TCA.

"A few years ago we decided lets see if we can something useful with those panels. Instead of (destroying them) lets rally the members we have in the area to find a cause that they care about, that's dear to their heart, and instead of building panels to throw away let’s build panels for the community, to leave."

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PHOTO: Mitch Bloomquist (center), Managing Director of TCA speaks at the dedication ceremony.  Ipe wood benches line the interior of the structure on 3 sides.

TCA has previously completed projects in Kansas City and Houston. The national association held its annual meeting this year in New Brunswick.

Bloomquist said, "Our role is basically to facilitate.  To bring the members together. And help identify an opportunity to give back to the communities. While a secondary thing is to showcase what we can do with Tilt-Up."

The general contractor was Alston Construction Company, Bob Murray, general manager.

COMING TO TOWN

Fred W. Anton, an account manager for Connecticut construction supply company A.H. Harris and Sons, and a former Highlands resident approached Council President Rebecca Kane in late 2014 about the idea of bringing the project to Highlands, according to Borough Administrator Tim Hill.

"They want to do something of significance to the area. They did speak to us about bringing this project to town as part of their conference that is held this week.  This has been in the works for quite a while," Hill said in an interview Thursday.  "With the annual conference happening in 2015, they were exploring potential opportunities to do something in our area, in a Sandy impacted area and that's how this got under way."

In a video of the January 21 meeting recorded by resident and council candidate Carolyn Broullon, (at 19:30) Council President Rebecca Kane offered a resolution that authorized the Tilt-Up Project Hurricane Sandy memorial.

Prior to installation plans were to be submitted to the Borough and reviewed by Borough Administrator and Councilwoman Ryan.

Kane said at the time, “We were approached by a gentleman named Fred Anton. He works for A. H. Harris. His company does dedicated memorials. So he was looking into the possibility of placing one in Highlands.  This resolution would basically say that we are interested in the project so they don’t pass us up and go to another municipality.  We have had a couple meetings with him and myself and Mr. Anton. What I would like to do is continue working on that and take Tara (Ryan) on the committee with me for Park and Recreations so we can try to find a suitable place that will work. And we will reach out to all the interested parties when we find an area.  Basically this is a first step in letting them know we are interested and we don’t want to be bypassed. We are showing an interest in passing this resolution.”

In the video, Councilman Card asks, “Is this for one particular memorial?” to which Kane replied, “It is very open ended right now.”  

Card then asked about the costs involved and was informed that all the cost would be borne by the company.  Card said, "Just because its free doesn’t mean we need it.”

Councilman Redmond then said, “This is non-binding.”  Ryan interjected, “This is just showing them we are interested.  We are not committing to anything. We are not spending any money.” The resolution unanimously passed.

 

NO COMMUNICATION

Many residents were surprised, and some were angry, to see concrete slabs appear this week, seemingly overnight, without any communication from the borough.

“The council did not vote to approve this project, just to investigate the offer,” said Annemarie Tierney, a resident of borough.  “The so-called resolution attached to the minutes does not reflect what was discussed or approved. And no committee reports were ever publicly discussed. This was a snow job from start to finish. We need to ask questions at the council meeting next Wednesday and demand accountability.”

"Folks are upset that something like this bunker could be erected on public land without any public discussion or full council vote," said Tierney.

Tim Hill said the council was informed along the way.  "There was information exchanged at various points about the process about how the project was moving forward."

However, the public was not informed about the project.  "To the best of my recollection there was not a public presentation," said Administrator Hill

"(We are) not angry at them (the TCA) and I believe when they are finished it probably will be a contemporary piece of art. I think everyone's issue is the decision of where it is placed and the community was not involved in that decision," said Tricia Rivera in a Highlands group facebook post.

Kat Walsh Roost said, "I think that the gesture is lovely. The issue is nobody in town knew about this before hand, nor do they know what the finished product will be."

Barbara Domings wrote, "This is not so altruistic. It is a self serving promo by a large international organization who was able to dupe a small town that was too flattered with receiving a "gift" to ask the right questions."

Councilwoman Kane said in a phone interview, "There should have been better communication."

At the dedication ceremony Thursday, Councilwoman Tara Ryan said with regard to communication of the project to the townspeople, "I will tell you that I do believe we did not do a good job at all on communicating this and I have to take responsibility."   She said, "I will totally make that a priority in the future.

Ryan is running for re-election next month to the Borough Council.

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PHOTO: The canopy of the structure has three holes, or oculi, that let the sun and the rain in.   Surfaces will be polished smooth to complete the project.

 

ASPIRATIONS

Billie Tsien, of the husband/wife design team at Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners said, “I think the whole thing about this space is its celebrating the spirit of the communities of New Jersey that came together after Sandy.  It is not so much about a memorial for sadness; it’s more about a celebration of the spirit of the people who live here.”

Symbolically, the structure represents strength and joy.  Tsien said, “In a certain way I think it is very solid. Physically, it’s very, very solid so you feel protected. But then when you go inside there are these opening to the sky and it about a sense of joy and celebration and kind of aspiration about the beauty of life.”

Tsien’s husband and partner, Tod Williams said, “I love the way it opens to the community and then opens to the sea. And it feels like it is not only an enclosure, but as Billie said, feels celebratory.  And looking at the sky it’s really talking about the heavens and the possibility of the sun.  When the sun comes out and we finish the surface off, it will be gorgeous.  People will find this a magical place.  Maybe a place you’ll be married.

The project has some finishing work to be completed.  Williams said they still have some polishing to do of the surfaces and smoothing of some edges.  He said, “Billie and I are talking about the possibility of polishing and painting it with a durable white.  So that it not only makes the space seem lighter here. But it also will be not only a place of shelter, but will not be dark at all but a positive place to be in.”

Billie Tsien said, I think this the kind of place that will grow on people over time.  I think anything that’s new and comes into your community is always an adjustment.  This was build in the spirit and celebration of the people of the community.

 

A plaque at the site reads:

IN HONOR OF SPIRIT OF OUR COMMUNITY
HURRICANE SANDY
OCTOBER 29, 2012
DEDICATED OCTOBER 1, 2015