EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A former township school building on English Creek Avenue may see new life this year — as South Jersey’s first Islamic elementary school.
The Planning Board is expected Monday to formally approve a plan to modify the old McKee City Public School, at 3536-38 English Creek Ave. There, the Muslim Community Organization of South Jersey proposed to open a school for children in kindergarten through fourth grade in September. The board voted 9-0 last month to grant the necessary waivers, variances and preliminary approval.
Muhammad Ayub, spokesman for the organization, said the school would begin with 20 to 25 children, eventually increasing to about 50 students.
Plans filed last month indicate organizers hope to add two two-classroom trailers to the seven-classroom, 8,000-square-foot school. This would allow the facility to accommodate students through junior high school.
“Many families have young children,” Ayub said. “(The school) was a need, since our congregation was growing.”
Plans show the Muslim Community Organization intends to strip up about 9,200 square feet of blacktop behind the school, adjacent to nearby homes, and plant grass. The rest of the blacktop will eventually be milled and replaced within the next four years.
During a Planning Board hearing last month, engineer Rami Nassar said the organization eventually hopes to build an even larger kindergarten through 12th grade school and recreation center in a campus-style setup.
Ayub stressed the school would operate similarly to regional Christian or Jewish schools, which offer state-mandated curriculum in addition to religious instruction.
The nearest Islamic school is in Philadelphia. Ayub said some local parents have sent their older children to schools in the New York area and this will allow them to stay closer to home.
The organization said on its website it bought the 12.5 acres of land along English Creek Avenue in 2010 to accommodate the future needs of the region’s Muslim community.
Tax records show it paid $705,000 to Egg Harbor Township to acquire what are now nine parcels on English Creek Avenue between William and Brown avenues. These include the school and the former John Couchoud Community Center.
The school, built around 1920, was last used by township first- and second-grade students in 1993, and was most recently used by the Cygnus Creative Arts Center. The township opened a nearby community center in the early 1980s.
Until the organization bought them, both had stood vacant since June 2008 when the township opened its new $11.4 million community center two miles away.
After it bought the properties, the Muslim Community Organization reopened the community center in 2011 with a hall, kitchen and meeting rooms.
Ultimately, the organization’s website said, it plans to build a mosque, library, gymnasium, funeral service facility, Islamic school for boys and girls, a medical clinic, parking and a playground.
Ayub said township officials and the neighbors have been helpful and accommodating throughout the development process.
James J. “Sonny” McCullough, the township mayor, said the proposed school would take some of the pressure off of regular public schools.
Township schools have grown over the past decade by almost 24 percent to 7,712 students as of October 2012, according to state Department of Education statistics.
McCullough also praised the members of the community.
“The people I have met who are going to run it and are involved with the organization I find to be fine people,” McCullough added. “They’ve been working on this for some time.”
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