VINELAND — The decision by the state in July to keep the Vineland Developmental Center open settled concerns about how the facility’s proposed closing would impact the region.
But there is still a part of the center to be dealt with: The west campus on Almond Road.
The 40 residents living there were transferred to the main campus on Landis Avenue in 2011 as part of the developmental center’s overall closing proposal. Other operations by the state Department of Human Services at the west campus ceased. The 69-acre site, which includes several buildings of varying sizes, is now under the jurisdiction of the state Department of the Treasury.
There is some short- and long-term interest in the property.
The local Board of Education is leasing part of the site for what it calls its Almond Road Preschool.
Officials with the city’s Boys and Girls Club toured some of the buildings on the site Friday. The club needs a new location to hold some of its programs, as it must vacate by the end of October the Oak Road building where it provides services that include after-school help with homework.
As for city government, Mayor Robert Romano said, “If anybody is looking for property, we could, through economic development, steer them there. Anything that can be an asset to the city, of course we would welcome.”
Putting the site in private hands would allow the municipality to collect taxes, which the state does not pay on the property.
Officials with the city’s Tax Assessor’s Office said the west campus site’s land is assessed at $364,800. There is no assessment for improvements to the property, they said. They would not estimate how much in property taxes a private owner would pay based on the land assessment.
What will happen to the site eventually depends on the state. Treasury officials would not comment Friday on the property’s future or if there are plans to eventually sell the land.
“It will take long years of discussions before a final decision is reached,” Treasury spokesman Andrew Pratt said.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said Friday it is time to start making that determination.
“We’ve got to begin this process,” Van Drew said.
The state Task Force on the Closure of State Developmental Centers recommended in July that the Vineland Developmental Center remain open. The task force instead recommended closing centers in Woodbridge, Middlesex County, and Totowa, Bergen County.
The Christie administration had proposed early last year to close the developmental center. Administration officials said the closing would save the state millions of dollars. Gov. Chris Christie also said he wanted to move developmental center residents out of those facilities into community-based operations.
The proposal caused widespread opposition from the Vineland Developmental Center’s 1,400 workers. Business and government leaders from throughout Cumberland County said the closing would only worsen the county’s unemployment rate and economy, which are among the worst in New Jersey.
Van Drew said that while he and other officials knew the west campus would remain vacant, no decision could be reached on its future until the fate of the entire developmental center was reached. Officials can now start working on “where we go with that large parcel of ground and those buildings contained within it.”
The state has a system to determine what to do with unused property and buildings. The system can be complex and involves first determining whether any state government agencies could use the property and buildings. Other determining factors include the condition of the property, any possible historic value and environmental concerns.
Pratt said Friday that Treasury only wanted to discuss the west campus site and its possible use by the Boys and Girls Club.
“We’re going to work with the (club) and see if any buildings can suit their needs,” Pratt said. “They’ve gotten a green light (and) rent at a very low rate.”
Club director Chris Volker said there is still some concern about whether his organization can find a building that is large enough to handle club programs. About 50 youths attend the club’s Power Hour homework club, which has a waiting list of about 70 students, he said.
The other problem in using the west campus is finding a building in good condition. Some of the buildings are old, and club officials have worries about the state of roofs and plumbing, he said.
Volker said that while his organization is running out of time to find a new building for some of its programs, using a west campus facility would be a good move for a complex no longer used by state government.
“I hate to see buildings get knocked down if they’re useable,” he said.
Contact Thomas Barlas: