Some thought it would never happen, but Stockton University students finally will move into the Showboat in Atlantic City due to COVID-19.
The pandemic has caused a need for more housing options for the university, which announced Friday it was finalizing an agreement to provide up to 400 rooms this fall at the hotel, which it once owned in its first bid to open an Atlantic City campus.
“We do understand the irony, but this is the best option for our students,” Stockton spokeswoman Diane D’Amico said.
ATLANTIC CITY — Stockton University is putting a freeze on its plans to expand its campus in Atlantic City, among other spending, in response to the financial constraints it is suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Due to social distancing restrictions amid the pandemic that reduce the number of students permitted in each existing housing unit, the college put out a request for proposals for additional housing options, a practice it has done in the past.
Of the responses, D’Amico said, Showboat’s was the most reasonable.
“We appreciate Showboat’s willingness to welcome our students and provide them with an environment that will be both safe and enjoyable,” Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said.
The agreement will provide up to 300 single rooms and 100 double rooms, and at least 250 dedicated parking spaces for students who are placed there. Students will have access to the onsite fitness facility, as well as an entertainment lounge, rooftop pool deck and a business/study lounge. Students will also have access to meals on site, and rooms will have a microwave and mini-fridge.
Stockton will have staff living on site, and Showboat will provide space at the front desk for university personnel. The per-semester rates for the rooms will be $4,500 for a single and $3,800 for a double, which is competitive with similar on-campus housing.
ATLANTIC CITY — Gamers, car enthusiasts, horror movie buffs, vegans, cage fighters, cosplayers, boxers, runway models, canines, zombies and residents seeking luxury living all have one thing in common: They found a home under the same roof.
“We are thrilled to partner with Stockton to enhance the college experience in Atlantic City,” said Brandon Dixon, president of Tower Investments, the company that owns Showboat. “Students can now room at the Showboat and enjoy all the amenities of the hotel and its Boardwalk location, while living at a treasured icon of local history. Having the students here will also bring a new exciting energy to the north side of the Boardwalk.”
Stockton had previously purchased the Showboat property in 2015 for $18 million — a deal that was marred by a lack of due diligence when it was revealed after the sale that a deed restriction prevented Stockton from operating the former casino property as it desired.
The debacle forced then-college President Herman Saatkamp to retire.
Developer Bart Blatstein, CEO of Tower, purchased Showboat from Stockton for $23 million in 2016, and the Showboat has been operating as a non-casino hotel for the past four years. Stockton moved ahead with a new plan for an Atlantic City campus and opened a 500-bed facility on Albany Avenue in 2018.
Earlier this month, after being closed since March due to COVID-19, Stockton announced it would be reopening its two campuses — in Galloway Township and Atlantic City — to students this fall with several online and in-person options for students.
Stockton Executive Director of Residential Life Steven Radwanski said the college wants to house as many students as request it.
Typically, about a third of Stockton’s almost 10,000 undergraduate students live in campus housing in Galloway and Atlantic City.
D’Amico said the college plans to use the existing 42 housing units on Chris Gaupp Drive in Galloway to temporarily house students who are living on campus then test positive for the virus.
Housing assignments will be distributed in August, D’Amico said.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — A Planning Board meeting Thursday night about final approval of a new ShopRite boiled down to a disagreement over the size of a fence.
Township code mandates a 6-foot fence, but Village Super Market, the company behind the proposed grocery store at 501 E. Jimmie Leeds Road, said it is willing to build an 8-foot fence to satisfy neighbors.
Residents who live closest to the proposed ShopRite wanted a fence as tall as they could convince the developer to build to block out noise, smell, lights and people. They loved the fence behind the current ShopRite at 401 S. Pitney Road and estimated it was anywhere between 12 and 15 feet high. They seemed like they were ready to accept a 10-foot-high fence.
“If you were living in my house, you would approve a higher fence,” said Susan Markman, 60, who wanted at least a 10-foot fence.
Despite the concerns from residents, Village Super Market decided to hold firm to the 8-foot fence.
At the conclusion of a meeting that lasted more than two hours, the board gave preliminary and final major site plan approval to the Village Super Market project by a unanimous vote of 8-0.
The new ShopRite will be a larger — 8,676 square feet — more efficient, state-of-the-art supermarket, said Damien Del Duca, attorney for Village Super Market. Size, access and parking are all challenges for the existing ShopRite on South Pitney Road.
Under the township code, the number of parking spaces required are 409, but Jay Sciullo, the developer’s engineer, said 511 spaces are in the plan for the new grocery store.
There are two pads, or sites for smaller, detached businesses, in front of the supermarket, but there are no tenants at this time, Del Duca said.
“There will be a new traffic signal at the entrance. We already achieved (Atlantic) County approval,” said Del Duca, who added a meeting was already held with the neighbors. “Neighbors want a fence on the north and east side. We are willing to install a vinyl fence on the developer’s side of the trees.”
ShopRite store manager George Fabrizio says he is at the front door of the Galloway Township store every morning even during the coronavirus pandemic.
John Agner, 65, said he understands that the township wants the ratable of a new supermarket, but the neighbors moved into a wooded area.
The consensus of the neighbors is they want a durable, tall, solid and wooden fence, Agner said.
“We don’t want to see any lights, especially at night,” Agner said.
Even though the existing ShopRite in the township does not operate 24 hours a day, Agner asked the Planning Board to consider a restriction on operating hours for the new ShopRite, so it could not be open from midnight to 6 a.m.
“One of the pads could be a Planet Fitness,” said Agner, who was concerned about a 24-hour business opening on one of the pads. “It’s a very residential neighborhood.”
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — The Hughes Center Honors paid tribute to former Govs. Jim Florio and Christine Todd Whitman and others Thursday night, but another prominent New Jersey resident was on everyone’s mind.
Anthony Coppola, who is a member of the Planning Board and the Township Council, said the land for the proposed supermarket was rezoned to be a commercial property in the 1990s.
“We desperately need a new grocery store,” Coppola said after the meeting.
One of the residents asked Village Super Market representatives whether they could build the fence prior to construction. Sciullo said they would because the wall protects the developer also.
Coppola suggested that after the fence was built, additional trees could be added to enhance buffering.
“I’m happy to fill in gaps,” Del Duca said.
TRENTON — All students must have the option to learn remotely in the fall, and schools must set clear procedures for families on how that will happen, according to guidance released Friday by the state Department of Education.
Parents will be allowed to opt out their children from in-person learning without having to demonstrate a risk of illness or other special circumstance.
The guidance was promised Monday by Gov. Phil Murphy as a way to provide flexibility to families who may not be comfortable sending their children back to school buildings even with social distancing guidelines in place.
Even if schools reopen to in-person education in September, some parents in South Jersey say they will not be sending their children back out of concern for their safety as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers.
“My office and the Department of Education are committed to working with our families, educators and administrators as we navigate the unique challenges that the 2020-21 school year will bring,” Murphy said. “We will continue to communicate with our districts and will work diligently to find solutions that prioritize the safety of our students and staff.”
Murphy said a key factor in the shift was the state’s recently announced program that will target more than $50 million in COVID-19 relief money and private funding toward providing students with internet access and hardware. The state has estimated that as many as 230,000 students were hampered by a lack of access to technology during remote learning this past spring.
“Not everyone has space in their house, high-speed internet or the ability to go out and hire a tutor,” Murphy said. “Our plans have to encompass those objectives. Equity has to be at the center of all this.”
The new rules are a clarification to the DOE’s previously released “Road Back” guidance for schools reopening in the fall. In addition to parental concerns, the DOE said it has received requests from school districts for guidance on how to allow for all-remote learning.
“Our initial guidance document was created after holding hundreds of meetings with stakeholders ranging from educators and school support staff to parents, health experts and more,” said Kevin Dehmer, interim commissioner of education. “We anticipated this will be an evolving document, shaped by continued input from stakeholders. Our announcement today is about honoring that commitment to listen to stakeholders.”
TRENTON — Parents and caregivers will be allowed to opt out of in-person education and choose all remote learning for their children in the fall, Gov. Phil Murphy announced during his 97th coronavirus briefing Monday.
In addition to eligibility and policy rules, the guidance says school districts must “communicate clearly and frequently with families, in their home language, about the availability of this offering and the related procedures,” and that students receiving remote instruction “should receive the same quality of instruction that is provided to any other student.” The remote programs will have to follow the same in-person and hybrid rules for student attendance and length of school day, and schools are required to report data to the DOE about student participation in these programs.
Guidelines released last month require schools to adopt a screening policy for students and staff, seek to maintain social distancing and require staff and visitors to wear masks. Students will be encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.
The all-remote guidance is available on the Department of Education’s “Restart and Recovery: The Road Back” web page.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
There were no high-fives, and plenty of players wore masks to protect against the PHILADELPHIA — The red, coronavirus. white and blue bunting hanged Opening day is usually a joyon the railings of an empty Cit- ous occasion. But one of Friizens Bank Park on Friday. day’s most prominent emotions Cardboard cutouts of health was relief that baseball was care workers were in the seats even in a position to hold openbehind home plate. ing day, considering the chalMICHAEL McGARRY Staff Writer lenges of restarting the sport with COVID-19 so prevalent. Welcome to Major League Baseball’s opening day during a global pandemic. Somehow, it all seemed very normal to Phillies manager Joe Girardi. The Phillies opened the See PHILLIES, A2