News from the Home Team...       Richard Grzywinski, Chair

January 2007 news 

It’s been a very busy stretch for the Home Team (building committee). We reported in the November newsletter that, at the urging of several team members and the congregation’s Board, we were looking hard at the prospect of expanding our building, in light of the dramatic recent growth in our congregation. The concern was that in short order we could run out of seating space in our main meeting room, and that we’d end up being compelled to expand far sooner than we had anticipated (even though future expansion had always been in the plans). After more detailed discussions with the Board, and on the advice of experienced builders in our midst who note that future expansion will never be cheaper than completing the project all at once, a majority of the Home Team has tentatively recommended we complete the full build-out, adding about 800 square feet to each floor. This is likely going to increase up-front costs, but there will be some chances to save. For example, in the basement, space we don’t anticipate using in the near term we’d simply leave unfinished. Our architects, Steve Fenwick and Associates, are now adjusting their drawings.

Meanwhile, Home Team member and builder/engineer (and M.B.A. to boot) Richard Gryzwinski has developed a detailed spreadsheet which we are using to try to come up with tighter estimates of what it will cost us to build this expanded new home. Additionally, our engineering firm has tweaked the site and grading plan, and in late December submitted a full set of plans and a list of other requested items to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission for approval. Pinelands regulatory staff often respond with additional questions, but we hope to be done with almost all but one aspect of this complex application within the first quarter of the New Year.

That final aspect is the pine snake study. Herpetological Associates completed the fall portion of a drift fence trapping study, and no snakes were found. Normally, an additional spring-summer study period is required. However, we are requesting that the spring-summer study be waived. Our lead consultant on the pine snake issue, the naturalist-biologist Clay Sutton (now retired, but once a Herpetological Associates consultant), in December wrote a detailed letter arguing his reasons why he believes the totality of data, including the fall trapping study and Sutton’s own previous habitat assessment, show that this is not suitable habitat for pine snakes. Under a New Jersey Open Record Act request, we have also recently received a response from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, indicating that NJDEP has no records of pine snakes in the vicinity of our property and that its own habitat assessment deems our land not to be suitable habitat. We are forwarding this information to Pinelands Commission staff with a request that the issue of the pine snake be closed so that we can proceed with construction.

Timeline: if the snake studies are deemed to be complete, our engineers say we should anticipate about five months after Pinelands initial approval to gain all the needed township and county construction approvals and then the required final Pinelands approval. Optimistically, we could begin construction as soon as fall 2007. If we must conduct another season of snake surveys, construction would be delayed for another five or six months.

In the meantime, we are proceeding with a wide range of other items. Our architects should soon be providing completed detailed construction drawings and schematics for the up-sized building, and Home Team member Dr. Lynn Stiles is beginning to develop a design for a highly energy-efficient but also highly cost-effective heating, cooling, and ventilation system. For our green building project, we’re looking further into what environmentally sustainable and healthy materials will be suitable and cost effective for our building.

We’ve appointed two small, focused action teams, a Construction Committee of three led by Richard Gryzwinski and including Jonathan Shambare (an architect in our midst, who manages facilities development at Stockton) and, tentatively Lynn Stiles. (Lynn would be happy to step aside and concentrate on heating and cooling issues if a congregation member or friend with extensive construction management experience steps forward.) Builder Chris Holaday continues to serve as our key intermediary with architects and engineers and has generously offered to serve as construction manager for the project; we are recommending that the Board take him up on this generous offer. Chris has also offered to provide one of his framing-carpentry crews to us at his hourly cost. The Construction Committee will manage accounts payable, assess the subcontractor bids Chris brings in, and will see that all subcontractors are properly insured and the congregation suitably indemnified. Jesse Connor will be heading up another group of three that will focus on interior finishes and fittings. We’ve also put landscape design in Jesse’s experienced and capable hands -- if you’ve seen the new garden at the Cape May County Zoo, that’s Jesse’s work.

Building is a daunting prospect in many ways. But we’ve been astonished at some of the professional expertise that has emerged from volunteers within our own congregation. And we promise, all of those who have offered to chip in with “sweat equity” once construction is underway – whether painting, hammering nails, or planting shrubs – will be given that chance to sweat.

-- submitted by Jon Luoma

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