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Small NJ Firm Gets Slice of Cherry Hill’s Redevelopment Pie

Thu October 20, 2005 - Northeast Edition
Jeff McGaw



While it was never one of the seven greatest man-made wonders of the world, at least the building at 926 Haddonfield Rd. is no longer one of the seven greatest man-made eyesores of Cherry Hill, NJ.

The abandoned building on the 1.8-acre (.72 ha) tract was an unflattering complement to the ghostly shell of the 223-acre (90.2 ha) former Garden State Park horse race track directly across the street.

Dilapidated and abandoned is not the image that Cherry Hill Township wanted, according to Mayor Bernie Platt. Due to the township’s aggressive economic improvement plan, the work of Five Star Construction & Management Inc. of Merchantville, NJ, and a host of subcontractors, the property known as 926 Plaza has become a small but tasty slice of the area’s large redevelopment pie.

The aged building there, once home to a produce market, a Police Athletic League gym, and an art supply warehouse, is now an attractive and promising business center with room for eight tenants. A deli, a paint store, a nail salon, an ice cream parlor, a UPS store, and a pizza shop are up and running already.

Work on the $2.1-million project began on Jan. 3. Despite bitter winter conditions that on at least one occasion rendered equipment inoperable, the last piece of equipment rolled off the property on June 17 — less than six months after work began and two months prior to the planned finish.

Turning this 16,900-sq.-ft. (1,570 sq m) architectural wart into a place where “the wife can get her nails done while the kids are getting ice cream was a pretty straightforward proposition,” said Five Star Owner George Cholaj.

Two Bobcat 773 skid steer loaders equipped with demolition grapple buckets and Allied hammers were used to gut the building. The work yielded more than 1,000 cu. yds. (764.5 cu m) of debris – enough to fill 30 large, 40-yd. (36.6 m) dumpsters.

The existing storefront was demolished and new structural steel was installed to support the 23-ft. (7 m) high walls, according to Cholaj. Next, workers carved out 14 windows and glass storefronts as well as six additional door openings in the rear.

Outside, Montgomery Contractors in Pennsauken, NJ, ripped up and removed 2,600 cu. yds. (1,988 cu m) of dirt, 60 tons (54.4 t) of asphalt, and 410 tons (372 t) of concrete to accommodate the storm water drainage system. To do this, Montgomery employed a host of iron, including a Case 580 backhoe, a Bobcat 773 skid steer loader with a cement breaker, a Hitachi 160 excavator, a 5-yd. (4.6 m) rubber-tire loader, and five tri-axle dump trucks. Three 8-ton (7.2 t) manholes were installed. An 80-ton (72.6 t) crane from J.A. Dobbs was used to install one 16-ton (14.5 t) manhole at the end of the catch basin.

With 45,000 cars per day driving on Haddonfield Road, bringing in gas, electric, telephone, water and sanitary utilities was a squeeze, Cholaj said.

Curbs, sidewalks, exterior lighting — including nine light poles — and conduits for irrigation were installed. An estimated 1,300 cu. yds. (994 cu m) of stone was laid in what would be the parking lot. The Caterpillar D3 dozer, a rubber-tire loader with a 5-yd. bucket, and a Bomag vibratory roller were the weapons of choice in that phase of the project.

Two 24-ft. (7.3 m) Skyjack aerial work platforms were used to help construct the frame for the EIFS exterior. Virtually all of the exterior landscaping was performed with a Bobcat, Cholaj said.

Five Star had an average of four men on the site including Site Superintendent Matthew Cholaj. A total of 36 men from 16 different subcontractors were used on the project.

Ironically, it took two months longer to get all of the approvals than it did to build the project. “They want high quality buildings in a very good setting,” Cholaj said.

The area is changing for the better. The 223-acre former Garden State Race Track is undergoing an $800-million transformation into commercial, residential and office space with restaurants, shops, and easy access to public transportation.

A 50,000 sq.-ft. (4,645 sq m) Mercedes-Benz dealership just opened on a nearby township-owned piece of land that was vacant for six years. Old shopping centers, a steel plant, and a corporate center are being revitalized as part of the image upgrade, Platt said.

“My vision is for the whole community,” Platt said. “The goal is not to use any more rural land, but to redevelop sites already here and improve what we have. It’s my vision where we’re taking buildings and factories and so forth that are no longer in use and redeveloping them into useful projects.” CEG