Classes Almost Ready to Go at Mount Paul

Renovations are nearing completion at the new Kean University Sustainability Science Center (243 Mt. Paul Road, Oak Ridge), which is housed in the old Mount Paul Seminary and retreat center. The Center is at the center of a 1175-acre Green Acres tract purchased by the state in 2010.

Fr. John Foley, who once served at the facility, told The Jefferson Chronicle that the property which is leased to Kean for $1 a year, is 41 acres.

He explained the property was used as part of a seminary until 1997 and then as a retreat house until it was sold. The property was once a hunting camp with a lodge, Foley said.

Kean calls the center its Highlands Campus.

The old grey house on the property, once known as the caretaker’s house, is gone, and parking facilities have been cleared; however, the State House Commission ruled in October 2014 that tree removal had to be limited because the property is in the Highlands Preservation Area.

The Center, which The Jefferson Chronicle toured along with Jefferson Township Administrator James Leach and Councilman Bob Birmingham, is reached up a winding, heavily-wooded driveway that opens up to a clearing and the outdoor classroom facility.

Margaret McCorry, Daniela Shebitz, Ed Hill and Bob Birmingham on the catwalk. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Classes are scheduled to begin right after Labor Day, according to Daniela Shebitz, an associate professor and the executive director of the Schools of Environmental and Sustainability Sciences. The classes that will run this fall semester will be in a new outdoor classroom with amphitheater seating. The structure is four stories high with commanding views of the lake and forests on the property. A catwalk connects it to the main building and another will allow visitors to walk to the new parking lot.

The catwalk through the trees. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

A new elevator in the building will allow people with mobility issues to access the catwalk. The structure, nicknamed The Treehouse, is made of wood, project manager Ed Hill said.

Treehouse: The stairwell structure of the outdoor classroom. (Photo: Jane Primerano)
A more dramatic view of the Treehouse. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Although the catwalk seems level as it angles down toward the building, a walk along it reveals a couple of dips which Hill says is better for wheelchair use.  

The seminary building is now called The Lodge. Built in the 1960s, it predates many EPA regulations, so a pumping station for the septic system was built to keep effluent from the lake.

The structure also predates fire codes so a 25,000 gallon water tank rises on a hill between the parking lot and the Lodge. The lake will also be used for fire control.

The Kean website describes the School of Environmental and Sustainability Science as having field research experiences in the specialty areas of geochemistry, geology and soil science technology, oceanography and marine conservation, and atmospheric science. The faculty includes geochemists, geographers, geologists, astronomers, and atmosphere and ocean scientists.

The School offers bachelor-of-science degrees in environmental biology, environmental science, geo-science, and sustainability science. It also officers a bachelor of arts degree in earth science for teaching.

The sustainability science BS is the first in New Jersey and one of only a dozen in the nation, according to the website. It is designed to prepare students for positions related to the environment in law, business, sociology, health, and political science. Students study developing technological and social solutions pertaining to energy, climate change, food production, waste management, transportation, and product development.

Shebitz said field biology and conservation biology are to be the first courses to be taught in Jefferson, but she envisions an expansion of the programs. While the focus will always be on sustainability, eventually transfer students from community colleges may be able to complete their degrees there.

“We are researching the demand,” Margaret McCorry, Kean’s director of media relations, explained.

The campus can hold about 400 students, Shebitz said. That is much smaller than Kean’s Ocean County satellite campus, but enough for its proposed use.

The three-level Lodge was reconfigured for nine faculty offices and a few rooms for students to stay over for a limited period, but it will never be a residential campus, Hill said.  For this reason, many of the students, especially in the degree-completion program, will be from the immediate area.

The main room will include a cafeteria and an IT center, Hill pointed out. The kitchen has been upgraded, but the exterior door still sports a sign warning people to close it tightly to prevent visits from bears.

An admonition not to prop the kitchen door open because of the possibility of uninvited guests. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Shebitz wants to offer college credit courses to high school students and is looking forward to working with the Morris County School of Technology Environmental Sciences Academy at Jefferson Township High School.  She also wants to offer high school field trips by the spring semester.

“We hope by next summer to offer completely immersive courses,” she said.  She would like to bring students from urban areas to the center where they get chance to experience environmental science.

A walk to the lake revealed clear water rushing over the dam. The Paulist fathers stocked the lake and people still come by to fish, Hill said. He said nearly every Monday he finds evidence people have camped in a secluded grove along the lake shore. Shebitz also found some trash left by the campers.

The group crosses the bridge over the dam. (Photo: Jane Primerano)
The dam on the lake at Mount Paul. (Photo: Jane Primerano)
Looking toward Sparta. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

Hill said he often goes on beer bottle patrol. The Lodge was used as a hangout for kids and possibly people poaching deer. The property is posted for no hunting.

The showplace of the Lodge is the former chapel. Now a multi-purpose room, the chapel still sports a stained-glass door on the second level and hanging lamps. But the main attraction is the view of the lake.

The stained glass remains in the chapel door. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

The fathers covered the windows because they were a distraction, Hill said, but the school reinstalled expanses of glass to bring the outdoors in.

For admissions and additional information on the Highlands Campus, the Kean University admissions office can be reached by calling 908-737-KEAN (5326), or online at www.kean.edu/offices/admissions.

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