Brick Township’s planning board on Wednesday night cleared the path for a modest expansion for the “sports dome” set to be built at the former Foodtown site on Route 70, as well as the addition of a daycare center at the facility.
Attorney John Jackson, representing Peter Tasca, the general manager of the business, as well as a group of his investors in the project, said that the square footage increase requested by the developer a simple 10-foot expansion of width in order to better adhere to regulation-size soccer and lacrosse field layouts.
The “dome” complex will actually consist of two buildings: the “bubble” like structure that will represent a playing field for various sports, as well as a traditionally-constructed building that will house basketball courts and a number of other sports and fitness features and amenities, plus an outdoor volleyball court. The hard-built structure will remain the same size as originally proposed, but the dome will grow from 68,400 square feet to 72,000 square feet in area.
“We think that it’s, basically, a minor modification that makes the facility better,” said Jackson, telling board members that Tasca’s other facility in Waldwick, N.J. is about 5,000 square feet larger than the Brick facility. It eventually became clear that both for athletes, and business purposes, the playing surface needed to be enlarged, at least minimally.
“What prompted this change is that, when they were going over the dome, the companies that supply these domes… the size needed to change in order to facilitate what happens within the bubble,” said Jeffrey Carr, the planner and engineer on the project. “After Mr. Tasca had the opportunity to speak with the various bubble companies, it was felt this change was necessary.”
The length of the “bubble” remains 380 feet, but the width will change from 180 feet to 190 feet.
“We had a plan that was set, but once we started doing the turf and lining the soccer fields, they started to look like bowling alleys,” Tasca explained. “Coaches are not going to want to come to a facility that is not set up symmetrically to what they’re teaching.”
The old dimensions could, technically, accommodate the proper field sizes, but some extra breathing room was needed both for safety and quality’s sake, he said.
“It made it feel very tight, and by just opening it up a little bit … coaches are going to be a lot happier with a facility that looks like a rectangle rather than a bowling alley.”
The hearing before the planning board Wednesday night also included the ultimate approval of the site to house a daycare facility. The daycare facility would be located in a mezzanine section of the basketball court building. This site is optimal, Carr said, because the court complex would primarily be used in the evening and daycare would be offered during the quieter daytime period, like from about 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“One of the key features of the Waldwick facility is a daycare center,” said Jackson.
Tasca, a physical education teacher turned entrepreneur, said his business would not directly provide daycare services, but partner with an established provider such as The Learning Experience to lease the space and have access to the facility. Children would be able to utilize some of the sports fields and would also be able to enjoy an outdoor area which will include a playground.
For security purposes, the daycare section will be gated and separated from the rest of the facility, and only authorized adults would be able to pick up students. The paths from the indoor portion to the outdoor portion would be largely private, lined with trees and inclusive of the use of bollards which would prevent wayward vehicles from reaching any pedestrians.
“We are negotiating with several daycare operators,” said Jackson. “We’re very close, and it’s a catch 22 because we need approval of the site plan before we sign a lease. It will be consistent with, and modeled after, what he’s doing in Waldwick right now.”
Tara Paxton, the township planner, endorsed the addition of the daycare center, adding that when she and former township planner Mike Fowler were reviewing the initial idea for a sports dome, a daycare seemed like a natural fit.
“We always thought that when the sports dome came in as one of the uses [of the Foodtown site], a daycare would be one of the perfect marriages of uses at the site, because it will be a meeting place for children in town,” Paxton said. “I was glad he was able to figure out a solution for finding room for this use on this site.”
Paxton described a daycare center as a “high volume drop-off and pickup site at specific times, but a low-volume parking site.”
Tasca said, as a former teacher, safety and providing a quality experience for children will be key to the daycare portion of the project.
“When parents need a safe facility, it makes them comfortable coming onto our property,” he said. “This is a major area where the kids get dropped off, they spend their time there, and sometimes they participate in our after-school programs. We have kickball for the kids, dance for the girls, and many other activities that daycare centers use.”
Of course, there is a built-in gym for children to use, and Tasca said he is a major proponent of kids spending time outdoors during good weather. His site in Waldwick, he explained, has an excellent relationship with the local police department, which he wishes to build in Brick as well, emphasizing the safety aspect as well as making the “dome” a good neighbor, partnering with the department for events and picnics.
The Learning Experience provides daycare in Waldwick, he said.
“We have them up in Warwick – and they’re great, they’re very safe,” he said.
Tasca said the goal for the program would be to attract 170 children to participate in the daycare program, which would also create 25 to 30 jobs, including welcome staff, a principal, supervisors, teachers, custodians and food service workers.
The daycare classes are broken into age groups from those who are “very little” to kids who are five-years-old and ready to soon begin kindergarten.
The board unanimously voted to approve the revised plans for the site.
Jackson said his client is “ready to go” and would like to begin construction immediately.
While some construction on-site, including grading and establishing a layout, has been underway, construction of the main building and dome building has not. Though the board approved the proposed tweaks, the board attorney must draft a formal resolution of approval that will be memorialized at the board’s next meeting. Once that approval is published in a print newspaper – a legacy state regulation – construction can begin.