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Wildcats come home as Pinelands reopens high school for 2019

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — It will be a homecoming for students at Pinelands Regional School District this week when they return to the high school building, which was closed last year after safety concerns related to a large-scale renovation.

“The biggest thing is that everything has been inspected, and is ready and safe for students to be in the building,” Superintendent Melissa McCooley said this week as she walked through the building.

The school is speckled with wildcat pride: a large wildcat logo incorporated in the new terrazzo flooring greets students at the school’s entrance.

About 1,000 students will return Thursday for their first day of high school and for almost all of the students, it will be the first time they’ve ever attended school in the building — the senior class were 10th graders when the building closed.

Unlike previous years, the high school will house ninth graders, as well. They previously attended the junior high school with seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“The sports are here and we also have new course offerings through Ocean County College and Stockton (University), and we want to make sure the ninth graders can participate in those academies,” McCooley said.

The high school at Pinelands received more than just a fresh coat of paint since closing last year. New windows, doors and ceiling tiles were installed, lights were upgraded, all of the bathrooms were renovated and a new scoreboard was installed in the gym, said John Bellone, the school’s director of facilities.

He also pointed out a large, angled awning that was installed over the entrance — the junior high received a matching upgrade.

Other improvements included the replacement of portions of the brick façade, fire systems, and a staircase near the back of the building that was closed for safety reasons for several years, he said.

The biggest upgrade was the roof and HVAC work that initiated the closing of the building in the first place.

The renovations were completed as part of a $53 million bond referendum approved by voters in 2017. Work began that year but was halted after asbestos was found and a roofing nail fell on a student.

The district closed the high school for three months in late 2017 as a precaution, sending students to the junior high on split sessions and upsetting parents.

In early 2018, the district decided to close the high school for an entire school year to complete the work safely.

McCooley said that when the building opens, the project will finally be finished.

School board President Sue Ernst said she was “elated” to see the construction come to an end and the high school reopen.

“It’s been a difficult three years. We’ve had a lot of ups, a lot of downs, but I was there in 1979 when the school opened, and this is like reliving it,” Ernst said Friday.

She said she is grateful for all of the employees and others who have stepped up to make sure the project was completed.

“It’s a great culmination,” Ernst said.

Students might notice that the “Commons” atrium area has a fresh coat of paint and scaled back foliage.

McCooley said they decided to keep some of the student artwork in the building, but wanted a fresh start in the atrium, where students will get to decide how the area is decorated.

“We wanted to just start over,” she said.

McCooley said the architect will be at orientation Wednesday to answer any questions. She said that the administration has been conscious of the concerns of the community.

“We’ve really put a lot of information out on our website. We’ve had it at board meetings,” McCooley said. “It’s important that we have to stop with conspiracy theories, ask questions, get answers and move forward.”

'Jersey Shore: Family Vacation' likely not filming in Hamilton Township

Hamilton Township looks to have missed its chance to play host to “Snooki,” “Pauly D” and “JWoww.”

As a courtesy, 495 Productions, the company behind MTV”s “Jersey Shore: Family Vacation” reality TV show, reached out to Hamilton Township in July to see whether there would be any objection to the filming of at least part of an episode within the township.

Their schedule dictated they wanted to film on Aug. 6 and 7 or Aug. 19 through 23 with two days of load-in prior and two days of load-out afterward, said Michael S. Jacobs, the township administrator, who told the Township Committee about the request.

At the time, the committee was reluctant to sign off on any filming without obtaining more information.

It wanted the production company to pay for any costs incurred by the township, such as police and public works expenses.

Jacobs said Friday that he reached out to 495 Productions after July’s committee meeting and was told they would get back in touch with him if they were interested or needed anything.

“I haven’t heard anything from them,” Jacobs said.

The most likely scenario is that the show did its filming some place else. The idea was to film a “staycation episode” at an Airbnb rental property with some of the cast members for next season.

It is possible the filming could have taken place at a private residence or property. As long as no services were needed, the township would not have needed to be contacted.

This possibly could have happened, but Jacobs believes if the reality TV celebrities from the “Jersey Shore” were running around the township, someone would have seen or heard something.

South Jersey may see close brush with Hurricane Dorian

The 5 p.m. Sunday track from the National Hurricane Center has Hurricane Dorian possibly affecting South Jersey.

McLEAN’S TOWN CAY, Bahamas — Hurricane Dorian struck the northern Bahamas as a catastrophic Category 5 storm Sunday, its record 185 mph winds ripping off roofs, overturning cars and tearing down power lines as hundreds hunkered down in schools, churches and shelters.

Dorian slammed into Elbow Cay in the Abaco Islands at 12:40 p.m., and then made a second landfall near Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island at 2 p.m., after authorities made last-minute pleas for those in low-lying areas to evacuate.

“It’s devastating,” said Joy Jibrilu, director general of the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism and Aviation. “There has been huge damage to property and infrastructure. Luckily, no loss of life reported.”

With its maximum sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts up to 220 mph, Dorian tied the record for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane ever to come ashore, equaling the Labor Day hurricane of 1935, before the storms were named.

Millions from Florida to the Carolinas kept a wary eye on the slow-moving Dorian amid indications it would veer sharply northeastward after passing the Bahamas and track up the U.S. Southeast seaboard. But authorities warned that even if its core did not make U.S. landfall, the potent storm would likely hammer the coast with powerful winds and heavy surf.

South Jersey was placed in the cone of uncertainty for Hurricane Dorian after the 5 p.m. Sunday update by the National Hurricane Center (NHC). The cone of uncertainty is the area in which the NHC forecasts that the eye of the storm may go through.

The timing for the storm’s possible arrival in New Jersey is late week, likely on Friday.

But this does not mean a hurricane is coming, said Press Meteorologist Joe Martucci.

“In fact, if it did get us directly, the track would take it over land most of the way, making it a remnant storm or perhaps tropical storm here. However, the ‘H’ for hurricane is in that latest point because the National Hurricane Center believes it would be a hurricane if the track was offshore,” Martucci said. “However, we’re between a 10-20% risk for Tropical Storm force winds (39 mph+). Cape May County is at 20-30%. Emergency vehicles can’t operate in tropical storm force winds.”

Martucci said Tuesday will be the day to know whether that cone will narrow in South Jersey’s vicinity. He said impacts would range from minor coastal flooding, high surf and a cloudy day to what many would consider a nor’easter. That would bring moderate coastal flooding, heavy rain, strong winds and high surf for less than a day.

The only recorded storm that was more powerful was Hurricane Allen in 1980, with its 190 mph winds. That storm did not make landfall.

“Catastrophic conditions” were reported in The Abaco Islands, with a storm surge of 18-23 feet, and Dorian was expected to cross Grand Bahama later in the day “with all its fury,” the center said. The hurricane was moving to the west at 5 mph.

In the northern stretches of the archipelago, hotels closed, residents boarded up homes and officials hired boats to move people to bigger islands.

Video that Jibrilu and government spokesman Kevin Harris said was sent by Abaco residents showed homes missing parts of their roofs, downed power lines and smashed and overturned cars. One showed floodwaters rushing through the streets of an unidentified town at nearly the height of a car roof.

In some parts of Abaco, “you cannot tell the difference as to the beginning of the street versus where the ocean begins,” said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis.

According to the Nassau Guardian, he called it “probably the most sad and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people.”

Earlier, Minnis had warned that anyone who did not evacuate was “in extreme danger and can expect a catastrophic consequence.”

The government opened 14 shelters across the Bahamas. Dozens ignored evacuation orders, officials said.

“The end could be fatal,” said Samuel Butler, assistant police commissioner. “We ask you, we beg you, we plead with you to get to a place of safety.”

Bahamas radio station ZNS Bahamas reported a mother and child in Grand Bahama called to say they were sheltering in a closet and seeking help from police.

Silbert Mills, owner of the Bahamas Christian Network, said trees and power lines were torn down in The Abaco Islands.

“The winds are howling like we’ve never, ever experienced before,” said Mills, 59, who planned to ride out the hurricane with his family in the concrete home he built 41 years ago in central Abaco.

Among those refusing to leave were 32 people in Sweetings Cay, a fishing town of a few hundred people about 5 feet (1.5 meters) above sea level, and a group that sought safety in Old Bahama Bay resort, which officials said was not safe.

Earlier Saturday, skiffs shuttled between outlying fishing villages and McLean’s Town, a settlement of a few dozen homes at the eastern end of Grand Bahama island, about 150 miles from Florida’s Atlantic coast. Most came from Sweetings Cay.

“We’re not taking no chances,” said Margaret Bassett, a ferry boat driver for the Deep Water Cay resort. “They said evacuate, you have to evacuate.”

But Jack Pittard, a 76-year-old American who has visited the Bahamas for 40 years, decided to ride out the storm — his first hurricane — in The Abaco Islands.

He said he battened down his house to spend the storm in a nearby duplex. He noted the ocean is quite deep near where he was staying, and there is a cay that provides protection.

A short video from Pittard about 2:30 p.m. showed winds shaking his home and ripping off its siding.

“I’m not afraid of dying here,” said Pittard, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Jeffrey Allen, who lives in Freeport on Grand Bahama, said he had learned after several storms that damage predictions sometimes don’t materialize, but he still takes precautions.

“It’s almost as if you wait with anticipation, hoping that it’s never as bad as they say it will be. However, you prepare for the worst nonetheless,” he said.

Over two or three days, the hurricane could dump as much as 4 feet of rain, in addition to the winds and storm surge, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue.

Harris, the government spokesman, said Dorian could affect 73,000 residents and 21,000 homes. Authorities closed airports for The Abaco Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but Lynden Pindling International Airport in the capital of Nassau stayed open.

The archipelago is no stranger to hurricanes. Homes are required to have metal reinforcements for roof beams to withstand winds into the upper limits of a Category 4 hurricane, and compliance is generally tight for those who can afford it. Risks are higher in poorer neighborhoods, with wooden homes in low-lying areas.

After the Bahamas, the slow-crawling storm was forecast to turn sharply and skirt toward the U.S. coast, staying just off Florida and Georgia on Tuesday and Wednesday. and then buffeting South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch for Florida’s East Coast from Deerfield Beach north to the Volusia and Brevard county line. The same area was put under a storm surge watch. Lake Okeechobee was under a tropical storm watch.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned the state’s densely populated Atlantic coast: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

He suspended tolls on the Florida Turnpike and other roads, including Alligator Alley, from Fort Lauderdale to Naples, to keep traffic flowing for evacuees.

DeSantis noted some forecast models still bring Dorian close to or even onto the Florida peninsula.

“That could produce life-threatening storm surge and hurricane force winds,” DeSantis said. “That cone of uncertainty still includes a lot of areas on the east coast of Florida and even into central and north Florida, so we are staying prepared and remaining vigilant.”

Palm Beach County ordered a mandatory evacuation for the eastern half of the county as of 1 p.m. Sunday. That included mobile homes, substandard housing, low-lying areas prone to flooding and homes along the Intracoastal Waterway and on barrier islands.

For Florida, it could come down to a handful of miles between relative safety and potential devastation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Dorian is forecast to be 40 to 50 miles off the Florida with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles to the west.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham urged residents not to bet on safety just because the specific forecast track has the storm just a bit offshore. Don’t focus on the track, he said, but the larger cone of possibility that includes landfall.

Complicating matters is that with every new forecast, “we keep nudging (Dorian’s track) a little bit to the left” which is closer to the Florida coast, Graham said.

Dorian is a powerful but small storm with hurricane force winds Sunday only extending 29 miles to the west, but they are expected to grow a bit. That makes forecasting its path delicate and difficult.

President Donald Trump already declared a state of emergency and was briefed about what he called a “monstrous” storm.

“We don’t know where it’s going to hit but we have an idea, probably a little bit different than the original course,” Trump said. “But it can change its course again and it can go back more toward Florida.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster declared a state of emergency, mobilizing state resources to prepare for potential storm effects. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state could see heavy rain, winds and floods.

The hurricane upended some Labor Day holiday weekend plans in the U.S.: Major airlines allowed travelers to change reservations without fees, big cruise lines rerouted their ships and Cumberland Island National Seashore off Georgia closed to visitors. Disney World and Orlando’s other resorts held off announcing any closings.


Associated Press writers Tim Aylen in McLean’s Town Cay; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Michael Weissenstein in Havana, Cuba; Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Adriana Gómez Licón in Miami; Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida; Julie Walker in New York; Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland; and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed.


For AP’s complete coverage of the hurricane:

Local 54 gets $280K grant for workforce program

ATLANTIC CITY — Nearly 100 people will receive workforce training in the hospitality industry because of a state grant awarded to the local casino workers’ union.

Unite Here Local 54, the labor union that represents nearly 10,000 employees in the casino industry, was awarded $280,000 from the inaugural Pre-Apprenticeship in Career Education program. The state Department of Labor and Workforce Development launched the PACE program in January and awarded more than $1.8 million to nine organizations.

Local 54 will train 96 participants for careers in restaurants and hotels, including chefs, custodians and housekeepers, according to a news release. Registration for the program will begin this month.

“Investing in our workforce is essential to creating a stronger and fairer New Jersey for all of our residents,” said Gov. Phil Murphy. “These new initiatives will continue our efforts to invest in our people by providing the necessary training and education to grow our middle class and reignite the innovation economy.”

The PACE program seeks to “encourage the growth of career pathway opportunities for people disconnected from employment, training and education,” according to the state labor department. The program also attempts to “eliminate economic barriers commonly associated with an individual’s inability to invest in skills training and work readiness.”

“Our PACE program is a natural complement to our existing apprenticeship offerings, and these new partners will help us develop a rich pipeline of highly qualified and highly skilled individuals seeking placement in a Registered Apprenticeship program or other good, sustainable employment,” said Robert Asaro-Angelo, state labor commissioner.

Local 54, the state labor department, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, New Jersey courts, state gaming regulators, the casino industry and the College and Community Fellowship teamed up in 2018 to launch a first-of-its-kind work program called HireAC! that provided training in hospitality careers for those with low-level criminal records.

Thirty-eight people completed the HireAC! program and were provided jobs in the Atlantic City casino industry.