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A Sign of Recovery, Bennett Bubble Reopens

The school district's inflated athletic bubble, critical to state high school sports and local businesses, reopened recently.

In the center of the complex student athletes mill about, waiting as they do between the lengthy delays typical to track and field meets. They’re unaware, as they should be, of one particular seam in the corner of the Toms River facility affectionately known as the Bennett Bubble. It’s darker than the others and stretches midway up the wall.

Those who understand the importance of the indoor athletic complex not only to the community and its businesses, but to the state’s young athletes, are likely to recognize this one seam, a bit darker than all the others, as a scar left by Hurricane Sandy.

The seam tore and the bubble burst. For a region devastated by Sandy, it could have been just another item on its list of destruction. But it’s come back, just weeks after being felled; though it carries a scar – a patched seam that’s a bit darker than the rest – the speed with which it was repaired is a testament to the town’s determination to rebuild.

“I think it shows the resilience of the people in the area,” Toms River Regional District Athletic Director Joe Arminio said. “Although we might have been devastated, we’re going to work to rebuild better. I think (the Bubble) is a symbol of people rolling their sleeves up and getting work done.”

The Bennett Bubble collapsed after heavy winds from Sandy caused the fabric to catch on a scoreboard and tear. The complex, pressurized and kept erect by constantly circulating air, lay crumpled on the ground, its atmospheric tent poles kicked away. Suddenly, the future of the location of nearly every important high school track and field meet was in doubt.

Yes, it’s just a place where children come to compete in athletics and not a home or business left in ruin by Sandy, but it is a landmark, a venue that generates business and carries statewide high school sports implications, and though many Toms River residents are still picking up the pieces of their lives following Sandy, it’s another thing returned to normal.

“I’m feeling as much relief as anything right now,” Site Coordinator Brian Wilkinson said during a recent relay. “When the place went down my phone didn’t stop ringing. Calls were coming in from coaches around the state. It wasn’t just that the Bubble went, it was the timing. There was a pretty good amount of panic throughout the state.”

On Friday, just a few days after the indoor track complex received its new CO and opened its repaired facility to athletic competition, the Bubble hosted the GMC Winter Track Relays, an annual meet that includes hundreds of student athletes from 28 Middlesex County high schools. It’s just one of several regional and statewide competitions the facility will host, including this week’s state indoor track and field championships.

Bennett, Wilkinson said, is the place where everyone runs. There are very few other facilities in the state that can handle the load the Bubble can, and while some indoor track and field spots like the Jersey City Armory can host large high school relays, none are set up to accommodate as many athletes and events as the Bennett Indoor Complex.

Bishop Ahr High School Assistant Track and Field Coach Danae Wise said when the school heard the Bubble had collapsed there was concern about when and where regional meets would be held.

Without the Bennett, however, prospects for the GMC Relays as well as other state indoor track and field events would have been in jeopardy. Losing the Bubble could have meant student athletes missing meets.

“I ran here when I was in high school and it’s always been one of my favorite facilities,” she said. “Honestly, we thought it was gone. We didn’t expect it to be restored so quickly.

“I’m just happy that the place is back up.”

It’s not just schools and students that are happy to see the Bubble back open, Wilkinson said. Take a drive along Hooper Avenue – the road where the Bubble is located – during any meet and you’ll find a school bus at every single restaurant and fast food joint. During state meets referees shack up at area hotels, and parents, who sometimes travel hours to see their kids participate in one track and field event during an entire day or days of a meet, kill time by shopping at the mall.

Arminio agreed, saying the reopening of the Bubble means a lot, not just to the athletes and coaches who use it every day, but to the businesses that have come to rely on the crowds that occupy it throughout the winter.

“I don’t think people realize the impact it has on businesses around the Bubble,” he said. “The Chili’s, the Friday’s, the mall. If you’re out there during a meet you’ll see the busses out there, guaranteed.

With this in mind, the decision to move quickly on reopening the Bubble was a priority for the district.

School officials did discuss the future of the Bubble soon after it collapsed, debating about whether to repair it, replace it with another inflatable bubble, or turn it into a brick and mortar facility. Ultimately, the district decided to repair the facility. Officials are hoping insurance and a contribution from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, will help cover a majority of the cost of repair, which has been estimated at as high as $800,000.

Wilkinson believes – hopes – that it was the right decision. The Bubble is built to withstand hurricane winds of up to 110 miles per hour, he said. It can be deflated, he said, but during storms with heavy wind the procedure is to over inflate the bubble so as to cause less wind resistance.

Though the Bubble wasn’t able to outlast New Jersey’s most significant storm in recorded history, Wilkinson thinks better luck awaits the indoor track and field complex during future storms.

“It was really sort of a fluke thing and I don’t think it will happen again,” he said. “It’s safe. We’re safe here.”

Ray C. January 07, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Why should the Toms River school board be putting out money for the residents of Ortley Beach? It's horrible what happened to you. But the mission of the school district is to prioritize the needs of the students. Providing housing for Ortley Beach residents isn't something they're remotely qualified to do. As for the money, this is part of FEMA's mission- to restore businesses and local institutions after a hurricaine. Insurance matched the rest of the cost (a couple of hundred thousand, which is mentioned in other Patch articles). It is ugly, but apparently, it's functional, so what's the harm?
grace January 07, 2013 at 02:37 PM
thank goodness i can finally get some sleep...the bubble is up and running
Scott Derek January 07, 2013 at 03:45 PM
The outside of the bubble looks so inviting with dirt and discoloration!
i don't get it?? January 07, 2013 at 04:01 PM
@JD...thank you for all of your info...you nailed it...as for those of you from the island, it is still so heartbreaking to hear of so many that have lost everything due to the storm, but there are No words to say when it comes to what happened to so many of you when your homes were flooded by the water company/township...stay strong, and know we haven't forgotten about you.
Greg January 07, 2013 at 05:50 PM
What everyone is forgetting here is that the $75,000.00 that we are supposedly getting from FEMA is to offset the $100,000.00 deductable that WE THE TAXPAYERS are on the hook for. The point that I was trying to make was that didn't anyone think that FEMA could not have found a better place to spend that money on. Also, where did the NJSIAA hold their track meets before this eyesore was built? Oh yeah thats right it was held in Red Bank, Jadwin Gym, Widner College and other places that I can't remember. But, then that was then they worried about the SAT scores and not your race times!
Irina January 07, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Your situation has nothing whatsoever to do with the expendatures of the BOE or what they may or may not get from FEMA. Save you rant for another post.
Irina January 07, 2013 at 05:58 PM
They should make the BOE and Ritacco climb up a ladder with scrub brushes and clean that eyesore.
Lucie47 January 07, 2013 at 06:26 PM
Putting that eyesore back up is a sign of recovery? Give me a break. What happens when the next storm takes it down? At least nobody was inside this time. How safe is that thing? If somebody built a "bubble house", would it pass code?
Chief Wahoo January 07, 2013 at 06:51 PM
i think its the perfect analogy for corrupt Toms River BLOWING UP ANOTHER BUBBLE !
. January 07, 2013 at 08:57 PM
This fiasco was the biggest waste of money ever, and then they went and did it again. What a foolish move!
Av January 07, 2013 at 09:37 PM
That eyesore is crap and will always be crap. So if you have to crap drive to a gas station cause some ass built a bubble with no bathrooms
Av January 07, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Brian that bubble is pathetic grow up stop living your dream thru some else's kids
JD January 07, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Now I know another reason why the school bus driver etc are at MacDonalds or the mall... to use the bathroom... Indoor track takes place in the winter... the seats are mighty cold with the outdoor porta-john.
Heidemarie January 07, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I don't get it. There are people that lost their homes and haven't received a penny from FEMA. That ugly bubble is that important?
Marjorie Smith January 08, 2013 at 02:31 AM
It's important to try and get things back to normal especially for kids who only have a limited time to participate in athletic programs before they graduate. Plus those of you who were living on a beach should be looking for homes on higher ground!
skizma January 08, 2013 at 08:17 AM
This is the best thing yet. And it being up serves so many students that keep them going and keep them motivated. That ugly bubble, which isn't ugly btw, had funding. So, get it done and make it useful. It makes money for the taxpayers. good grief. I am sure none of these posters have anything positive to say and are deliberately trying to be negative. Obviously. However, it is a terrific place for these events. Excellent, not just terrific. And the bubble is far from pathetic. You are Av. And JD, it does need better bathroom facilities. But, it's still a great facility.
skizma January 08, 2013 at 08:22 AM
Because the bubble was not on the barrier island. Your unfortunate, difficult situation is a result of different things. Huh, maybe we all ought to live in a bubble. We'd be up and running by now. School taxes cannot cannot be diverted to individual citizens. And hopefully you can see progress for your situation soon. We should have a whole other post for the FEMA process....omg can you see it now? there wouldn't be enough room....
skizma January 08, 2013 at 08:25 AM
and even though, there was a "loss" of $20,000, no other school facility - including the ridiculous football fields, are making a profit. Common. Then, you are telling us, that the bubble paid for all but $20,000 of it's expenses? Could you imagine if the rest of the school could pay for itself as closely as this? Imagine......you'd have virtually no tax bill. It'd be laughable. However, someone would complain......you can bet on that.
skizma January 08, 2013 at 08:26 AM
well, a rainfall will help you there.
skizma January 08, 2013 at 08:29 AM
i don't get it....then you too realize that at least one place is paying for all but $20,000 of it's cost. You can't say that about any other building or use. If all of the other expenditures could pay for all but a fraction of their costs, you'd have no school tax bill to talk of. Good grief. And, there is something missing about the concession stand info.
JD January 08, 2013 at 01:44 PM
skizma.... the bubble operations lost $20,000... That does not include the cost of the bubble of $2.7million in the cash flow analysis. If you put the $2.7 million into a 20yr T-bill, it could have been making $150,000/yr.... keep in mind, you get your $2.7million in 20 yrs. whereas the bubble can't be sold. Breakeven for the bubble operation to give an equal rate of return of a T-Bill means... it should turn a $225,000 profit.
JD January 08, 2013 at 01:47 PM
It doesn't make money for the taxpayers.. it loses $20,000/yr on cash flow. and that doesn't include the $2.7million cost to build it.. My position... we own it... turn it over to some professionals to make money... Need to make at least $225,000 to breakeven and give proper ROI to the 2.7million investment.
stacy buono January 08, 2013 at 03:11 PM
sadly, the reopening of the bubble article warranted MANY more words and quotes than the ones about the FEMA flood elevation charts and the possible DEP action to dredge the bay, the things that NEED to happen in order for real people to go home. This is a waste of taxpayer money and makes reporters look like morons.
grace January 08, 2013 at 06:09 PM
waste of time waste of money..the entire toms river school system should be ashamed of themselves! yes that includes all the ritacco hirees and retired pals
grace January 08, 2013 at 08:05 PM
it is time for the kids to try and get back to some sort of normalcy..and i guess that includes going to school where my teachers were hired thru ritacco cause mom and dad knew mike or his friends or his friends kids and so on..and soon your hirees will be the next principals. you cant make this stuff up! right mr k?
grace January 08, 2013 at 08:17 PM
toms river schools should be ashamed of themselves
Evernotice January 11, 2013 at 03:27 PM
You tell em Marjorie!!! Its their fault for living on the beach...right? How dare they get frustrated that little Timmy gets to play soccor in a tent when they dont even have a house to live in. Alls well in your little world...isnt it?
pie love January 14, 2013 at 06:27 AM
Oyha i saw that ...
Toms Rivererian January 15, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Your "facts" are almost 100%, completely wrong. While some coaches allow there athletes to leave with their parents early, some do not. Parents ABSOLUTELY go out to kill time rather than sit in the Bubble. To say otherwise just isn't true. Refs at state meets are NOT all from Ocean and Monmouth county. You can not be more wrong. Where do you get this stuff?? To say the NJSIAA Meets are "primarily" during the week isn't true either. Anyone can simply log on to the NJSIAA site and see that is not the case. To say there are two sets of officals on weekends is also incorrect. Most work both meets. I have no idea if the Bubble makes or loses money nor can I comment on stolen money though I wonder where you get your info. It seems you just flat out made up a lot of this so how am I to know you aren't making the rest of it up too? I am all for debate, but why just flat out make up stuff like when State meets are or if officals are working one meet or two? That is strange.
Richard Melancon February 17, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Why isnt the bubble open to the public, especially the seniors? Don't tell me it is because of liabilty! A waiver could cover that! Right now the elderly are limited to walking around inside the mall on cold wintery days, and on Sunday the mall isnt open until 1000. Thanks, Rich M TR ramelan1@yahoo.com PS-A proud TR senior

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