EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — It's been almost eight years in the making, but the Egg Harbor Township PAL’s Executive Director and co-founder Hector Tavarez would argue it's been 32 long years in the making, with a little chuckle and smile.
Whichever it is, the construction of Buddy’s Adventure Zone has been full of obstacles, challenges and setbacks and now is pure satisfaction. In the end, not even a pandemic and COVID-19 would deny the Egg Harbor Township Police Activities League members their goal of building the multi purpose destination community center.
Buddy’s Adventure Zone was conceived by a youth and adult future planning committee in 2013 as an affordable multi purpose facility designed to challenge the body and the mind. The complex is located on a five acre lot at 2542 Ridge Ave. in Egg Harbor Township, adjacent to the organization's Ready to Ride, 30 acre OHV Park. The first building built in the complex was a 14,000 square foot STEM building. It was completed in July of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Conceived, designed, built and being paid for by the organization, the first building alone was a big challenge.
“We decided to build the STEM building first because we knew the STEM aspect provided more benefits to the members' futures. We know that we can help a member go to college or trade school and land a great job. We have no such guarantees in helping them become professional athletes,” Tavarez said.
The new building is a far cry from the 6th District Rescue squad building the organization occupied in the early 90s. Opened during the pandemic, the new STEM and summer camp building has been used on a limited basis for out-of-school learning and a few of the organization's competitive robotics teams. On hold due to COVID are the STEM workshops, media and astronomy clubs, its internationally ranked Seaperch teams and a host of other programs.
“It’s very different from the rescue squad building. When we took that building over it was condemned and the Township Committee laughed at me when I asked to use it. But, even that building helped the organization grow and is presently home to our Little PALs preschool,” Tavarez said.
Less than a year after opening Phase 1, PAL is moving forward with Phase 2 of the project, a 21,400 square foot athletic building with a 14,000 square foot AstroTurf field.
Bob Ortiz, chairmen of the BOD said, “STEM is what the kids need to help them advance, but we recognize the role that athletics play in being a well rounded person. Our kids want it, and we also need to recognize that the STEM building will not pay the bills, and the arena will.”
PAL will offer league play for arena style NFL flag football, tackle football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, volleyball and other activities that can take advantage of the astro turf field. In addition, the field can be rented by outside groups and will have batting cages and a media center to broadcast and record games.
Kyle Tavarez, of Egg Harbor Township, who was a youth representative on the PAL building planning committee at the age of 8 and a current member of the PAL robotics team, said, “It was very cool to be on the planning committee at only 8 and then see the entire thing built. Having both buildings together will be very convenient, especially for the student athlete. They can take care of their school work and robotics in the stem building and then head to sports practice. I think the construction of Buddys’ adventure zone is great. I can’t wait for the athletic side to be built so I can just cross the sidewalk from robotics to the arena.”
Ben Capp, of Galloway Township, is the business squad team lead for PAL’s First Tech Challenge Robotics Team. He said, “I've been with the EHT PAL since I was in the 7th grade and attended the EHT PAL Summer Camp in Galloway. I can’t wait for the new building to be complete and the new media center that will be in it. We’ve heard rumors that our PAL will soon have a location in Galloway. Can’t wait.”
Tavarez credits the organization's success to an awesome staff and volunteers, a Board of Directors that is focused on the needs of the community and sponsors and supporters like OceanFirst Bank and OceanFirst Foundation, NorthStar of New Jersey, Garvey Corporation, Stockton University, Jen Heller of Polistina and Associates, Mott/Watkins Associates, All Zone Heating, Pete Derosa Concrete and so many more.
“It really does take a village, and working together we accomplish more,” said Tavarez
“We’ve had so many sponsors, supporters, and partners over the last 30 years, it's hard to remember and mention all of them. Our public works department has definitely been one of the best,” Tavarez said. "Those guys have been great for over 30 years. It takes teamwork to make the dream work.”
When asked who in the area has a facility like this, both Ortiz and Tavarez echoed, “No one has a facility like this!”
The Egg Harbor Township PAL and PAL of Atlantic County will have a groundbreaking ceremony and STEM building tour May 20 at 4 p.m. at 2542 Ridge Ave., Egg Harbor Township.