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River Plaza Celebrates $1 Million Grant at Traditional Walk to School Event

River Plaza Principal David Whitman is seen surrounded by his students. Everyone is giving a thumbs up. On Oct. 3 River Plaza students and staff were joined by elected officials and community leaders at the elementary school’s annual Walk to School event, a historic tradition that dates back to its founding in 1922.

Principal David Whitman led parents and students from the parking lot of the nearby River Plaza firehouse through the streets of the surrounding neighborhood and down Hubbard Avenue to the front entrance of the school house.

Near the front steps was where the group was addressed by New Jersey Assemblywoman Serena DiMasso and Middletown Township Mayor Tony Perry. The pair was joined by Middletown Township Committee members Patricia Snell and Kevin Settembrino, and Board of Education President Pamela Rogers, to help the community celebrate the award of a $1 million Safe Routes to School grant.

The grant, which was officially awarded in May and delivered by the North Jersey Transit Planning Authority, will be used for improvements to sections of Hubbard Avenue, a highly trafficked county roadway that connects Navesink River Road and West Front Street.

William O. George, III, Ed. D., Superintendent of Schools, said the award would not have been possible without the efforts and dedication of River Plaza-area resident Marguerite Stocker, who began the grant writing process five years ago and coordinated support from local and state officials.

“It’s a little overwhelming to be here today,” said Stocker, who remembers DiMaso and members of the Board of Education joining her and River Plaza students on their traditional walk to school in 2015. The event served to showcase the need for improvements in the area, and was followed by a walking assessment of the school route, which included members of the Middletown police department, as well as township and county personnel.

“It’s great for the neighborhood, and will really make River Plaza a walking community,” added Stocker.

 
 
 

“I was on the Freeholder Board back when this process started, and we were able to help make some great initial improvements to the roadway over the years, but this grant is something special,” said DiMaso. “Elected leaders can do some good, but when you have help from community leaders like Marguerite, you can move mountains. And that’s what we’ll do here for these kids and this community.”   

The Township is in the process of contracting an engineer to lead the project. The scope of the work will include sidewalk improvements and new impact barrier fencing between the sidewalk and Hubbard Avenue.

“It’s been a total team effort to make this concept a reality, and thanks to the hard work and determination of community leaders like Marguerite, as well as the cooperation of the Board of Education, Middletown Township and our elected leaders, we will be able to create a safer environment for our students to travel to and from school.”

As of September there are 287 students enrolled at River Plaza Elementary School, and 171 of them reside within two miles of campus. Families living within that two-mile threshold must either provide transportation for their student(s), or students can opt to walk or bike to school. Once projects are completed these families will see an immediate benefit to their student’s safety and pedestrian experience.

“We have some great projects coming thanks to great local leadership from Marguerite Stocker, from our assemblywoman (Serena DiMaso) and our senator (Declan O’Scanlon), from our Dr. George and the of course your parents,” said Perry to the collection of River Plaza students on hand. “These projects are going to make River Plaza a great place to be, a great place to live, and most importantly, a safe place to walk to school each and every day.”