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Atlantic Tech's Cea'anai Jackson, 32, brings down a rebound n the second quarter, against Wildwood, at Ocean City High School, Saturday Jan. 26, 2019. (For The Press / VERNON OGRODNEK)

South Jersey's first recovery high school set to open in March

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — By March 1, South Jersey will have its first recovery high school for students committed to overcoming addiction or mental health issues.

The Middle Township School District announced last week it was notified by Gov. Phil Murphy’s office that it will receive a $500,000 grant to serve a handful of students at the newly established Coastal Prep High School in Wildwood.

“I said, ‘What a great opportunity, not only for Cape May County but for the southern counties to give students who are recovering from addiction and other issues.’ We could give them a chance to get their high school diploma and get them on the right path. And I think that’s what we’re here to do,” said Middle Township Superintendent David Salvo.

The Coastal Prep recovery high school, located at the Cape Assist office on New Jersey Avenue, will become the state’s third recovery high school and serve students from Burlington County to Cape May and parts of Ocean County, Salvo said.

State data show New Jersey’s drug addiction problem is growing and is especially prevalent in the southern counties. In 2017, Atlantic, Cape May, Camden, Cumberland, Ocean, Gloucester and Salem counties had the top eight highest rates of admissions for substance-abuse treatment in the state.

“For the young adult who is ready to give up drugs and alcohol and live a life in recovery, there are not enough supports,” said Katie Faldetta, executive director of Cape Assist, which will provide recovery and transition services for students and families at the high school.

She said providing a place for students to complete their education and give them and their family structure is a key to their eventual success.

Middle Township Director of Curriculum and Instruction Toni Lehman, who has helped develop the recovery school program, said the school is a chance to make an impact on the students while they are young.

“You can open up the obits and you can look at stats,” said Lehman. “We just don’t want to see any more of our students succumbing to opioid or any other drug-based addiction.”

Tonia Ahern, a family advocate in Cape May County, said it’s hard to quantify the need for youth treatment services because the problems among the age group are not often vocalized. She said schools often don’t want to face the label of needing help to combat addiction.

“People don’t just start having an issue at 18 years old. It’s happening during school,” Ahern said. “By addressing this early while they’re in school and giving them an option for recovery when they’re young, there’s a chance, before things get really out of control, that we can really change their lives.”

In late 2017, Middle Township received a $100,000 planning and research grant from the state for the recovery high school.

The new funding will pay for the implementation of the day program, including two educator positions, funding for Cape Assist’s services and transportation through June 30. Salvo said the district will rely on the state for future funding.

“It’s not something any one district can fund on its own,” he said.

Students who graduate from the recovery high school will receive a high school diploma from their home district.

Faldetta said those working on the high school program have been in communication with the two existing recovery high schools in the state — Raymond Lesniak in Union County and KEYS Academy in Monmouth County — to learn best practices.

“Kids who have graduated from that program have gone on to college, have gone on to start their own recovery programs, have gone on to start their lives,” she said. “The kids are doing so without drugs and alcohol. And I don’t know if you can say they would have if they didn’t have the support to them and to their families that the recovery high school provided them.”

Sally Onesty, of Ocean City, said her son, Tyler, who died of an opioid overdose nearly three years ago, could have benefited from a recovery high school.

“I think it’s amazing, and I think it’s needed. I think the community should definitely get behind it,” said Onesty, who has been a vocal advocate for addiction services and family support in the community.

Recovery high school programs are small, serving about a dozen students a year. Coastal Prep’s first class will serve about five to eight students. Faldetta said that helps provide individualized education and support. She said the key is that students have to want to change their lives.

“It’s not most 16- and 17-year-olds who are using drugs and alcohol who want to stop. That’s the reality. This is a very special kid who at a very young age says, ‘I’m done,’” Faldetta said.

For more information, visit coastalprephigh or contact Cape Assist and ask for Katie Faldetta, executive director, or Kathy Gibson, director of recovery services, at 609-522-5960.

Atop Hard Rock, conservationists hope endangered falcons find a home

ATLANTIC CITY — Forty-one floors high overlooking a busy summertime Boardwalk, a pair of New Jersey’s once endangered peregrine falcons found a home, at least briefly.

The birds started nesting on the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino roof while construction took place at the building last year. The state installed an igloo hoping the peregrines would move in, but instead one died and the other disappeared.

Zoologist Kathleen Clark is holding out hope for more birds in 2019. According to a report from the state Department of Environmental Protection released this month, the peregrine population increased last year as the species continues to rebound.

The pair at Hard Rock was living inside a broken light fixture next to a narrow, 8-inch ledge on top of the 41-story hotel.

They went undetected until a local birdwatcher reported their presence. One ended up falling from the ledge and dying before the state placed the small igloo on the roof, meant to serve as a new, safer habitat.

“I fully expected the pair would make the very short move. ... It was surprising,” said Clark, principal zoologist with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

They aren’t the only peregrines to settle atop Atlantic City’s towering casinos.

As the world’s fastest bird, peregrines typically live on cliffs and dive from heights at up to 200 mph to catch prey below. Tall man-made structures, like Atlantic City’s casinos, make perfect habitats.

A bird was found incubating atop the former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino last year, but the eggs were laid on the concrete roof and did not survive.

“That was not a good site for actual nesting,” Clark said. “None of them ended up hatching.”

At Harrah’s Resort, an adult peregrine and a young fledgling were seen in 2018, Clark said. Clark hopes to establish a nest at the site this year, as well as at Golden Nugget Atlantic City, around where there was another recent sighting.

Harrah’s staff last reported a pair two years ago, said spokeswoman Noel Stevenson. One was nesting between two hotel towers and another atop the Waterfront Conference Center.

But the falcons might be shoobies. Once the warm weather and beach chairs are gone, they pack up, too.

“They usually arrive in the spring to nest and leave early fall,” Stevenson said.

Peregrines typically maintain a one-mile territory, but that’s reduced in cities. Urban areas are typically safer for the birds than cliffs, which are frequented by their predators, the large, great horned owls.

“They’re looking for tall structures next to water,” Clark said. “It’s taken some time for more pairs to get established in Atlantic City.”

The species was placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 due to the effects of the pesticide DDT, which damaged the birds’ eggs. Peregrines were removed from the federal list 25 years later but remain endangered in New Jersey. They began nesting again on cliffs in the Palisades along the Hudson River in 2003.

In New Jersey, there were 40 nesting pairs and more than 41 young hatched in 2018, according to the DEP. Across South Jersey, there are nests in Stone Harbor, Wildwood Crest, Atlantic City, Drag Island, Ocean City, Marmora and Galloway Township.

One of the longest continually operated nests in New Jersey is at the former Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, where the birds gained a level of fame among staff when the casino was in operation.

The falcons have survived high winds, storms and numerous changes in the building’s ownership over the decades.

A pair first set up there in 1985, and the female began having chicks in 1988, but died in 2001. Another female arrived and began having babies until about 2013. Two fledglings hatched there last year.

With plans for the now-closed Atlantic Club in limbo, Clark said she’s unsure where they could end up.

She’s spoken with South Jersey Gas officials about possibly moving the nest to the utility’s nearby roof if the casino is demolished. Stockton University was in negotiations to buy the building from owner TJM Properties and raze it, but the deal fell through.

“That pair would then have a place to move to,” Clark said. “They have a tall building right next door, so that makes it the perfect spot to relocate.”

Endangered birds of New Jersey

{standaloneHead}Casino saturation{/standaloneHead}

Edward Lea  

Joe Lupo talks about horseracing at Borgata, the last ‘race book’ left in Atlantic City Wednesday, May 4, 2016. Because it’s the only game left in town, Borgata expects to be jammed up Saturday for the Kentucky Derby, and a few more times in the coming weeks for the Preakness and Belmont

Growing A.C. market more important than number of casinos, experts say

Striking the right balance

{child_byline}DAVID DANZIS

Staff Writer


ATLANTIC CITY — Even before Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and Ocean Resort Casino opened in late June, some wondered whether the Atlantic City market could handle more internal competition.

And while the city’s gaming industry is riding a positive wave from the new gambling halls and the introduction of legalized sports betting, even the casino executives are acutely aware that the market may not be big enough for all of them.

“If we don’t grow the market, there’s probably not going to be nine properties,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock and a former executive at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, during a recent business forum hosted by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.

After five casinos closed between 2014 and 2016, bringing the total number in the resort to seven, the prevailing thought was that the market had “rightsized” itself as total gaming revenue began to marginally increase for the remaining properties.

Casino win (revenue from table and slot games), however, continued to decrease until 2017, when it rose to $2.413 billion from 2016’s $2.406 billion.

In 2018, with nine properties up and running, casino win was $2.5 billion.

But gaming experts believe focusing on the number of properties, rather than the size of the market and how best to foster growth, is missing the big picture.

Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming Group, said the number of casinos in Atlantic City is “absolutely irrelevant” to the sustained viability of the market. He said attention should be placed on ways to increase visitation, value and experiences, all of which would boost profitability for the market.

“The number of properties is not even remotely the critical measure,” said Pollock.

The question of how many casinos is the “right” number for Atlantic City was posed to five executives representing seven of the resort’s nine properties during the chamber event. The forum took place the same day that news broke of an ownership change at Ocean Resort.

The executives from Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Hard Rock, Resorts Casino Hotel, Tropicana Atlantic City and Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s three properties (Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s Resort) all said the current number was either just right or perhaps slightly over what the market could reasonably handle.

The executives were afforded an opportunity to get to the heart of the matter: How can the Atlantic City market grow?

Outside of the expected answers of offering better service and product or more non-gaming amenities, the executives touched on many of the same elements that industry experts believe are essential to growing the overall market: ease of access, leadership stability and improving both the perception and reality of the city.

“I think a big part of what we have to solve is how can we incorporate more convenient means to get into our market,” said Marcus Glover, president and chief operating officer of Borgata, “and bring the airport to life.”

Increasing air travel to Atlantic City has been a focal point of former Atlantic City and Las Vegas casino executive Steve Norton for years. Norton, now an industry consultant, has long maintained that increasing midweek, offseason visitation to the resort, primarily through more convention bookings, is paramount for Atlantic City.

“But to be successful at attracting the convention trades, Atlantic City needs commercial air service into Atlantic City International (Airport), because this is the favorite method of transportation for attendees at the larger shows,” Norton said. “Plus new air would also allow Atlantic City to attract casino players and vacationers from cities like Atlanta, Dallas and Houston that have populations similar to Philadelphia, but no casino gaming.”

Kevin Ortzman, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey and regional president of Caesars Entertainment, cited political instability as a challenge. While he did not elaborate on that idea, the continued state oversight of Atlantic City and the uncertainty of that complicated dynamic has been a concern for many in the industry.

The final point, which all of the casino executives at the forum and most industry experts agree is critical to expanding the market, is changing the image of Atlantic City. Mark Giannantonio, president and CEO of Resorts, said point blank: “Perception is reality.” Glover said Atlantic City needs to figure out how to “not be in the crosshairs” of negative attention.

“We have social issues in Atlantic City,” said Steve Callender, senior vice president of Eastern regional operations for Tropicana Atlantic City’s parent company, Eldorado Resorts. “It’s not a great situation, and it needs to be addressed. It hurts our businesses, and it frightens our customers.”

Pollock said Atlantic City has always risen and fallen with the resort’s image.

“The history of Atlantic City is one that perceived reality becomes reality,” he said. “Atlantic City needs to focus on changing perception for investors and visitors to want to come.”



Dale Gerhard  

Former Middle Township basketball coach Tom Feraco (right) is introduce by school superintendent David Salvo during the ceremony. Middle Township High School held a ceremony dedicating their basketball court to former basketball coach Tom Feraco, who led the Panthers to numerous South Jersey and State titles throughout his 35 year career as head coach. The ceremony was held prior to the Panthers hosting the St Joseph Wildcats. Tuesday Jan 3, 2017. (Dale Gerhard / Staff Photographer