By Briana Vannozzi
Tucked behind office buildings in Gloucester Township, New Jersey’s first ever county sustainability campus.
“We first started with the greenhouses but we realized that this eight-acre land could be developed into a whole environmental campus,” said Camden County Freeholder Michelle Gentek-Mayer.
Gentek-Mayer helped launch the idea — refurbishing abandoned hothouses and land.
“We now have a sensory garden for autistic children,” she said.
Built by a Girl Scout.
“They get their sensory of touch. They get to hear, so with the wind they get to hear. We have a hoop house that we grow our perennials in. We have an outdoor classroom that we will be starting in September,” she said.
She shows us the gazebo that Camden County tech students helped fix up and run electric through. It will house a county run children’s nature program.
“Some of the stations we have is music and movement, so we have our rain sticks,” she said.
The greenhouses are used to produce flowers for the county parks.
“In 2014 we were able to place out 8,000 plants and in 2015, by the end of this year, we will have put out 20,000 plants into our parks,” Gentek-Mayer said.
Saving thousands of dollars and resulting in more than 500 hours of volunteer work for schools, senior programs and scouts. There’s also a meditation space where future yoga classes will be held.
“This is a property that everyone in the community, no matter what age or who you are, can come in and enjoy the park,” Gentek-Mayer said.
Inside the historic building is being updated to hold offices, workshops and the first tool library in New Jersey. That’s an idea borrowed from a program in Philadelphia where homeowners can check out a donated tool — like they would a book — for a project, instead of spending lots of cash.
“This room we’re going to use as our library where we’re going to have any type of home improvement book that you would need. Also, you can come in and borrow that and we’re already had 300 books donated to us,” Gentek-Mayer said.
There’s also a bike share program — hundreds have been donated and are being worked on by volunteers.
“This is the main place where they fix the bikes and then they’ll distribute them to all the municipalities that already have a bike share program,” she said.
All 37 municipalities in Camden County are registered with Sustainable New Jersey. Gentek-Mayer says this is just the start.
The county is searching for volunteers to help run these programs. They hoping to have the entire campus to be ready by the end of October.