Mater Dei looks at long-term building strategies


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Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — Mater Dei Prep has implemented the first steps of a multi-phase plan that will improve existing school facilities and grounds to provide students and community members with a more secure and welcoming environment.

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“We are a thriving school on the horizon of great things,” said James Hauenstein, president and principal.

Mater Dei Prep recently received $10,000 from the New Jersey Nonpublic Security Aid Program, which is run by the state Department of Education, to look at and improve security plans in and around the independent, faith-based college preparatory co-ed high school.

“When I enter a school building, one of the first things I always look at is what security is in that school building,” Hauenstein said. “It is an entry point … and the governance in my eyes is not to say if it is a good system or a bad system, the governance I look at is — is it something different than I currently know or am doing and how do I go about implementing that piece of the puzzle?”

Hauenstein stressed that while the school’s building is safe, the idea is to modernize current security features and methods.

“In an area such as security … I am always observant of those things because at the end of the day the first and foremost priority of any school administration is the safety of their student body,” he said. “When students feel safe, then learning will occur; when students don’t, that is a problem.”

Security plans include installing a closed-circuit surveillance camera system throughout the school campus, looking at points of entry and strengthening those through re-keying all exterior doors with swipe cards, replacing the intercom system and eventually installing key swipes on all classroom doors too.

Part of the plan also includes hiring a supervisor of safety and student affairs, a new full-time position within the school.

The position will be filled beginning July 1 by former Mater Dei Prep head football coach Shannon Hoadley, who is also a Class of 1989 alumnus.

Hoadley’s duties will include assisting in the supervision of all authorized student events on and off campus, overseeing the implementation of the security plan, recommending safety improvements and monitoring students, the campus and the parking lot during school hours.

“Mr. Hoadley has a great career in corrections and can become an extra set of eyes,” Hauenstein said, adding that Hoadley is a retired sergeant from the Essex County Department of Corrections and was supervisor of the Special Operations Team.

“Just because we are looking at security does not mean we are not a safe school,” Hauenstein said. “What we are doing is preparing for what we hope is something that never happens, but we want to be prepared in case it does happen … and make sure that the safety we have and the safety our students and staff enjoy stays in place and/or gets improved.”

The long-term building strategies for Mater Dei Prep also include improvements to school grounds, the main building and Memorial Hall.

According to Hauenstein, the first steps to the building plan involved removing some aging trees from the front walkway.

“The front of the building … eight gorgeous trees lined our walkway and they were at a point, as we went through our security analysis, that they were aging out,” he said. “There was a potential of tipping in a few of them, there were some issues with how they were affecting the concrete.”

The trees were removed during Easter recess.

“We were able to partner with master gardeners, and we developed this system where they came out, reviewed the grounds, reviewed the needs and some other criteria such as what types of plants are native to our area, what plants would thrive in the conditions that the front of the building presents, and we put together a design … and went out to our community and said this is the plan, we want to beautify the front of the building and asked them to help out and purchase a plant,” Hauenstein said.

“Now we’ve invested our parents, our students and our community … and created this very welcoming environment. It shows the stakeholders, parents of potential students, that Mater Dei Prep is forward-thinking.”

Memorial Hall, which serves a dual purpose for Mater Dei Prep students, has also undergone some improvements.

“It is our gym and it is also our theater for the performing arts,” Hauenstein said. “As a gym it serves its purpose for physical education classes, sports games and other events and activities.

“As a theater in the performing arts Mater Dei Prep has a very proud tradition [but] Memorial Hall is an old building, and over the years the stage curtains had really just aged out.”

With the help of benefactors and community members alike, the school was able to install new stage and window curtains earlier this month.

“What we were able to do was all of the windows now have blackout curtains on them, and all of our stage curtains were purchased new and installed,” Hauenstein said.

“Not only does it provide a whole new look to the facility, it also was part of improving the sound conditions in Memorial Hall … because it creates a better sound flow for our students so the performances are cleaner.

“So we accomplished two things; we updated and made the gymnasium look more professional and we also improved the quality of our performing arts program.

“Our students shine in this area and we want to give them those opportunities to shine a little bit better.”

Additional phases of the building plan include new plantings, installing double doors from the cafeteria to the outside and creating a patio space and picnic area for students.

“When looking at this community you really do see there is a tremendous love for this place by a lot of people, and when you put that to action you end up with a great story and great possibilities,” Hauenstein said.

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