MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ - A student project has led to plans to install a marker commemorating the city’s terra cotta industry in a new waterfront park under construction across the street from the Perth Amboy Campus of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools.
Paul Bretzger, a teacher of computer-aided design and drafting for three years, said he was looking for a project “with local flavor” for his students when he came across Perth Amboy’s history as a world leader in the production of terra cotta -- bricks and architectural details made from soft clay baked in kilns.
An architect for 20 years, Bretzger also is a historian who has written a book on the role of Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock at the battle of Gettysburg.
With the help of local historian John Kerry Dyke, who has written articles on the terra cotta industry in Perth Amboy, and Mark Nonestied, a staff member with the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission, two of Bretzger’s students began research to develop the marker last fall.
The two students, now seniors, Willy Diez and Vianny Luna, were helped by graphic arts student Jordie Inoa to develop a presentation that won the grand prize for the Perth Amboy Campus during the annual MCVTS Tech Expo last February.
“They did everything I asked them to,” Bretzger said of the students. “I didn’t have any problem motivating them – they got the job done.”
Vianny, who took the lead on the project, said they were inspired by a theme of the Tech Expo: doing something to help the community. She said many of Perth Amboy’s newer residents, including Hispanic immigrants, are not familiar with the city’s history.
Their design – which included a monument to represent the kilns used to produce terra cotta, as well four interpretive markers – came along too late to be included in the park, which was already under construction.
But Rick Lear, director of parks and recreation for Middlesex County, said the students inspired the inclusion of a marker on terra cotta among the eight interpretive signs that were planned for the park.
Lear said the students’ research was condensed into a single panel that is being produced by a contractor.
“We took their original idea and we adapted it in a way that’s neat and exciting,” he said. “I give full credit to them for inspiring that idea.”
Other markers will include a history of the property, which included a terra cotta factory and a cable-making concern before a fire gutted the buildings, and a guide to identifying boats that will pass the site on the Arthur Kill.
Lear said the construction of the park, which will include ballfields, a playground, and a waterfront walking path, is on schedule for a spring 2021 opening.
“We’re really excited about this,” Vianny said. “It’s a cool experience.”
The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, also has campuses in East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway and Woodbridge, offering 34 career majors. The Perth Amboy Campus has been named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. More information is available at www.mcvts.net.