Building HEROES: Construction, Dead Deer, and Coronavirus

What a week!  It’s been exactly two weeks since I closed on 3059 Englishtown Road, the new location for HEROES Academy.   So much has happened during that time. 

On Monday, Victory Junk Removal came to remove all the “junk” from the property.  They made three trips with a large moving van to remove all the debris from the property.  Three men worked all day, and one returned the following day.  They were FABULOUS.  It was a rough job, but they worked through the day with a smile.  They were friendly, personable, and (most importantly) thorough.  They cleared EVERYTHING.  There were several very large piles of junk including old mattresses rotting away, couches, a large Styrofoam block, mountains of random trash, miscellaneous debris scattered throughout the property, and even a chair half buried in the yard.  They took it all away!  I felt like I waved a magic wand and made it all “poof.”  Of course, I’m sure they felt differently about that! 

Before After

While they were hard at work removing the trash from the property, I finished mowing the very overgrown “lawn.”  We trimmed trees – some more aggressively from others, removed annoying bushes, and dragged away most of the fallen branches. 

At some point over the weekend, a deer met its death.  Right next to my sign. My pretty brand-new sign.  My dead dear deer friend.  I never really considered how dead deer are removed from the side of the road, and I’m still not sure.  I’ve asked countless people, and I can’t seem to get my dead deer friend to go away. 


Last week, I made friends with a local guy with a backhoe.  He helped clear the u-shaped driveway around the property, trim the trees, and move the trees to the back of the property.  He helped fix a drainage problem at the end of the driveway too; no more flooding!  On Wednesday, he started clearing the line of bushes and small trees on the prope\rty.  With the help of a wood-chipper, all of this turned into one very large pile of wood chips.  Mulch, anyone? He doesn’t deal with dead animals, so my dear deer friend remains beside my sign. 

My dear deer friend has a friend now.  About ten feet away.  I guess he won’t be lonely anymore.  I just wish they could be friendly somewhere else.  Apparently, the non-emergency police department deals with dead deer.  I called them, but it’s a county road. As such, they called the county.  When will my dead deer go away? I don’t know.  They don’t know.  People in the town say they see the dear get marked with a big spray paint x.  They eventually get removed.  When? We don’t know, but it won’t be soon. I hope he doesn’t start to smell.  My pretty sign doesn’t like its new buddy.


I’ve met with so many contractors this week that I can’t keep track of their names.  I introduce myself to contractors and subsequently ask what they do.  Are you a general contractor? A stucco guy? A plumber?  Please remind me.  I apologize, but you’re the fourth contractor here today.  You all drive trucks.  You all call yourselves contractors.  What is it YOU actually do?  What’s your name again?  Can I just call you Pete? Or Steve? Or Mario?  So many duplicate names.   Most of them seem to respond to any of these names.  In a pinch, “Hey, you” seems to do just fine.  I don’t mean any disrespect.  I do really want to know who you are.  I’m just tired.  And there’s just so many of you!


Every contractor has a different opinion.  My HVAC is ridiculous.  The plans are $100,000 excessive. $100,000??? You mean that I could save $100,000 by changing my HVAC plans.  I call the engineer.  Why are these plans so insane.  He doesn’t consider cost, apparently.   I’m not sure who bankrolls his projects, but it is certainly not me.  They need to change.

My architect says I have natural gas.  I don’t think so.  The neighbors don’t.  I start polling contractors.  This thing that I’m looking at doesn’t look like a natural gas meter.  By mid-week, votes are 3-2 with 3 voting for propane and 2 voting for natural gas.  Aren’t they supposed to know these things? I suppose that this is something that I should know too, but I was pretty sure we had propane until I was told otherwise.  The sellers didn’t know anything about the property.  Now, I’m just confused.  By the end of the week, we all agree. Finally.  It’s propane. We’ll just use all electric for the HVAC and stove.


Several contractors have told me I need mark-outs.  Several of them have called and requested them for me.  I wait several days, and no one comes.  I’m told they should be done within 72 hours.  It’s been way more than 72 hours.  The guy with the backhoe calls a friend who calls a friend.  Like magic, I have mark-outs.  This is what I’ve been waiting for?  Four lines in the ground on top of things I could already see?  How is this useful? What does this do for me?  I don’t know, but I have my mark-outs.  I can tell the contractors that I have my mark-outs.

I want to get rid of some trees on the property.  They’re spitting “gum balls” everywhere.  I make some calls. My friend with the truck makes some calls.  No one will remove my trees.  Why? You need a permit to remove trees.  It seems these permits are exceptionally difficult to get in this town.  Lovely.  I guess they’re staying.  I start to plot a slow death for these trees.   I like trees.  I really do.  I just don’t like THESE trees.  I love that the town values trees, but I just wish they didn’t value THESE trees.  I guess the trees are staying – for now. 


I just want my permits.  I’m praying that the government doesn’t shut down.  I buy a school and a pandemic hit.  What are the odds?


One way or another, this will get built before classes start.  I can promise you that.  Ask the contractor that I worked with when we built our current location.


In the midst of all this, COVID-19 has struck.  Yikes.  I’m not the person that panics and runs to the store to buy 48 rolls of toilet paper, 20 bottles of hand sanitizer, and a life-time supply of food.  But, I run a school.  With children.  I guess I’ll have to do something about that, but what?  What does the NJDOE have to say? Not much.  The NJDOH? Not much.   By Thursday, the county tells the local schools that it is “their decision.”  Great. Thanks.  I don’t want to make this decision.  I’m not a health expert.  I can certainly read and research, but how do I know that I’m not going to contribute to this growing pandemic? 


I continue to prepare for classes as usual, but now I’m also going to have to prepare lessons and activities for students to do at home.  I’m not an online school.  I never intended to be an online school.  My classes are not designed to be online.  Several of my classes are working on projects.  They’re nearing the end of the projects.  Next step?  Prepare a presentation and practice public speaking skills. That’s not happening.  We can’t do that online.  What to do….what to do…


I wrote a new website for HEROES just recently.  I was planning on adding a learning management system to the website to supplement classes next year.  We use Gradelink right now, but I need something with more functionality.  I guess I’m going to use this for entirely online classes for awhile.  It’s not ready.  It’s nowhere near ready.  It’s basically a concept at this point.  Oh boy. 


I can’t believe how functional I made this site in just a week.  Students can now view and submit assignments.  


We have our very own teacher-in-service day.  I train Ms.Voit on this new program, a program which I’ve barely figured out myself. We set to work.  As we start to load content, we very quickly realize how much of our lessons simply can’t be put online.  I can’t teach students how to assemble a hard-cover book online.  I can’t teach students how to assemble a game board online.  I can’t teach public speaking skills online.  They can’t participate in discussions.  I guess I could add discussion forums too….I just need to figure out how to do that….


Students can now view assignments, submit assignments, and participate in discussion forums.


Oops. There’s no easy way for students to access these courses.  Without a direct URL, they can’t access them at all.  Somehow, by the end of the night (and half a bottle of wine later), I have an entire social media platform on my website that allows students to view their courses, discussion forums, post updates to their classmates, chat with the instructor, and more. 


Let’s just hope it works.  I don’t know if it works.  I think it does.  I hope it does.  Please bear with me.  I’m not a web-programmer.  I wasn’t planning on adding this skill to my resume.  I never meant for my students to be the beta testers, but I don’t have time to beta test it.  Let’s just hope my website doesn’t crash.  That’s exactly what I need right now.


More updates coming soon….Off to design some more online classes…and maybe finish the other half of that bottle of wine.


Oh, and my dead dear deer friends are still hanging out by my sign.  


This all happened in a week.  I feel like I’m living in a Dan Brown movie.  Where’s the treasure?

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