Earth sciences professor Jim Sacchinelli is already planning trips to the roof of the new science building at Atlantic Cape Community College’s main campus in Mays Landing.

That’s where the new observatory will be located, allowing him to teach lessons on campus, rather than having to take students to Richard Stockton College or Rowan University.

“Now, I’ll be able to just go up the stairs from my classroom to the roof,” said Sacchinelli, of Mays Landing, who is so excited about the new building he even made a donation toward the cost of the observatory in memory of his parents, Mary M. and Augustino J. Sacchinelli. “This is such an opportunity for students.”

College officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new $16 million STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building, Monday.

Part of the college’s Blueprint 2020 Master Plan, officials two years ago had hoped the building could open in 2013. But delays in getting all the funding approved pushed back the starting date, which is now expected to be in March, with a completion date of September 2014.

The college board of trustees is expected to approve a construction contract at its Dec. 18 meeting.

The first new building on the main campus in almost 20 years, Atlantic Cape President Peter Mora said it took a “mosaic” of funding to make it possible.

Atlantic County government will put up half the cost, with the rest coming from a $2 million U.S. Economic Development Authority grant, $3.5 million in state funds, $1.4 million from funds the college has put in reserve from its budget, $381,000 from the U.S. Department of Education, $350,000 from the Atlantic Cape Foundation and $273,000 from the South Jersey Economic Development District.

Part of the delay in constructing the new building has been waiting for all of the funding sources to be finalized. The college also had to get Pinelands approval for the building and other improvements planned for the campus.

The SJEDD funds have already been used to pay for the college’s air traffic control simulator. The U.S. Department of Education funds and the funds raised by the college foundation will be used to pay for equipment and furniture for the building.

The 32,475-square-foot building, designed by Stantec Architects in Philadelphia, will house five science labs and science preparation rooms, three computer classes, one of which will house the college’s air traffic control tower simulator, and a second simulator designed to teach radar operation instruction.

There will also be a student lounge, faculty offices, conference rooms and a food station. A green “vegetated” roof will help the college attain the planned silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Otto Hernandez, chair of the information systems and aviation studies program, said the new building will help educate students in fields that are essential to the future of the country.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, said the William J. Hughes FAA Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township is a key center for research and development, and it needs people trained in science and engineering areas.

“From a national perspective, we are still a leader in the world, but the reality is we have slipped,” he said. “Look at China and India.”

An article in the November issue of College Planning and Management cites the U.S. as lagging behind China and Japan in STEM-trained workers and cites community colleges as an affordable gateway into college and technical fields.

State Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said the new building will help keep local students in state and give them a state-of-the-art facility.

“Our students here are as good if not better than any in the nation,” he said. “They deserve this opportunity.”

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