By CAROL COMEGNO
The nonprofit group overseeing conversion of the battleship USS New Jersey into a floating museum will hold its public meeting in Burlington County this week, a first for the county.
The Home Port Alliance, based in Camden, will meet for its monthly public session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the technology education center at the Burlington County College campus, Route 38, Mount Laurel. The South Jersey coalition includes leaders from labor organizations, business and government.
"I am delighted we are able to be accommodated in Burlington County for this meeting," said Patricia Jones, alliance co-chairwoman and Camden County surrogate. "It is a tribute to the kind of regional support we are getting from people of other counties, and we are glad we can come out to them."
Jones said the alliance will give updates on pier construction and award the last major contracts for refurbishment of the historic ship, including exterior painting. The total projected cost so far is about $22 million - mostly public funds from various governmental agencies. The $11 million, 450-foot T-shaped pier, now under construction on the Camden Waterfront, represents the biggest expense.
Plans call for the nearly 60-year-old ship, which fought in three major wars, to open to the public in September, possibly as early as Labor Day weekend.
Meanwhile, Jones said, the alliance raised nearly $100, 000 in the last week of June when it held a fund-raising cruise on the Delaware River intended to attract financial support from business and major private contributors.
The business sponsors of the trip, Commerce Bank and the Marlton law firm of Parker, McCay and Criscuolo, together gave the largest donation - $15,000.
"The battleship is part of New Jersey's heritage, and we are proud to continue to play a leadership role in the creation of a new and permanent home for the USS New Jersey on the Camden Waterfront," said Michael Carbone, Commerce senior vice president, and Philip A. Norcross, chief executive officer of the law firm and an alliance trustee, in a joint statement.
Other business and labor donors included the law firms of Archer and Greiner and Dilworth and Paxson, builder Robert Scarborough, First Union National Bank, McAllister Towing and unions representing electrical workers, carpenters, iron workers and laborers.
During the cruise that passed by the ship's repair site at the Broadway Terminal and future pier behind the Tweeter Center, the alliance also honored two members of the original board: Ann Duvall and Linda Hayes. They received the David M. McGuigan Volunteer Award, named for the board' s first president.
McGuigan presented the awards, saying the two women were key in helping him compile the application to the Navy for the donation of the New Jersey - the most decorated battleship in U.S. naval history. It was a South Jersey coup over a North Jersey site in Bayonne proposed in an an application by the long-standing state battleship commission, which had rejected Camden.
"Without these two young women, there would be no battleship New Jersey under restoration," said McGuigan, a retired Navy captain who is the one most credited with the success of the application.
"Ann planned and executed a program to show the Navy the alliance was not some small group, but rather one supported not only statewide but also in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York," McGuigan said.
"Linda developed the curatorial philosophy and management plan. Her work was so significant that the museum plan she developed was used by the Navy as a model that all historic ships' applications must have and follow effective this year."
Duvall said her work was a life-changing experience, adding, "This battleship will be a place where people of all ages can come to learn and be inspired."