By Liz Sheehan
MONMOUTH BEACH – Once again, the Monmouth Beach Commissioners need to find a new place to do the public’s business.
In 2012, Super Storm Sandy wrecked the Borough Hall, so they moved meetings to the century-old Monmouth Beach Cultural Center at 128 Ocean Avenue. Then on Sunday, an early morning fire damaged the entrance and the history room of the cultural center, forcing its closure.
The venue for the next public meeting, scheduled for late October, has not yet been determined. But the First Aid Squad on Beach Road has offered its newly renovated meeting room for borough meetings, said Mayor Sue Howard. The center’s director, Lois Geyer, said the cultural center may re-open in January, following repairs.
According to Fire Chief Tim Griffin, a fire was reported at 5:18 a.m. Sunday morning.
Upon arrival, he said Assistant Chief Pasquariello found an exterior fire that had extended inside the building. Crews stretched two hand lines to extinguish the fire.
Companies from Long Branch, Sea Bright, Oceanport, West Long Branch, Little Silver and Asbury Park/Neptune Rapid Intervention Crew assisted in extinguishing the fire. The fire is currently under investigation by the Monmouth Beach Fire Bureau.
Borough officials are in the process of sorting out insurance matters and dealing with smoke and fire damage remediation. On Wednesday, a cleaning service was working in the building, located at 128 Ocean Ave. The building also had an exhibit hall where artists present their work in scheduled shows, as well as a smaller room and a kitchen, which were not damaged. Staff offices were also located there, pending a move to the library that is under renovation.
The fire damage is covered by insurance, Geyer said.
After Sandy, she said, there was no insurance, so the repairs were done by volunteers, who donated funds, work or materials, “Sandy took us four months,” she said, “We did it all ourselves.”
The cultural center opened in 2000, after it had been renovated by volunteers and financed by the late Jay Ross, a borough resident. The center has a 24-year-lease at $1 a year from the state Department of Environmental Protect.
The building was incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard, and stayed there until the late 1950s. In the 1960s the New Jersey Marine Police moved into the building but left after the 1992 nor’easter, officially withdrawing in 1993.
In 1999, the state moved to demolish the building, but days before the scheduled work, it was saved through the efforts of borough officials, the town’s Historical Society and volunteers.
The Historical Society is no longer in operation, Geyer said.
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