The on-again, off-again Phase II of Stockton University’s residential dormitory expansion project finally moved forward Wednesday morning as state and local dignitaries put (ceremonial) shovels in the ground.

The six-story, 135,000-square-foot student residence hall will be built at Atlantic and South Providence avenues, across from O’Donnell Memorial Park. The 416-bed dorm will compliment the 533-bed Boardwalk residence hall and three-story academic building that opened in fall 2018.

The $64 million project is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

Originally scheduled to break ground in March, Phase II was stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 began to impact New Jersey’s finances, $4.6 million in state funding earmarked for Stockton’s expansion was frozen.

Following lengthy budget negotiations in Trenton over the summer, Gov. Phil Murphy released the frozen money and state lawmakers approved the allocation.

On Wednesday, state and local leaders touted the university’s Atlantic City expansion as a critical component of the region’s growth and recovery.

“Overwhelmingly, these projects are diversifying the economy of the city and creating a stronger, fairer and more resilient post-coronavirus future for Atlantic City and South Jersey,” Murphy said during pre-groundbreaking remarks at O’Donnell Memorial Park. “When completed, this hall will add to Stockton’s growing Atlantic City footprint.”

Murphy, along with several others, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, Senate President Steve Sweeney, state Sen. Chris Brown, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr., spoke about the significance of the project for the future of the university and the city.

“Phase II solidifies our ongoing partnership with Atlantic City and demonstrates our long-term commitment to the vibrancy and success of the city’s University District,” said Stockton President Harvey Kesselman. “This project represents our unwavering confidence in the future, not just for Stockton or Atlantic City, but for the great state of New Jersey.”

Student Senate President Katherine Campion expressed gratitude on behalf of the university’s nearly 10,000 students “for (making) Stockton University the place that it is today, which is, of course, an educational institution but also a home.”

“What many people don’t realize is you’re not just creating buildings, you are creating our students’ futures, you are creating the foundation of my generation and future generations’ successes,” Campion said.

The project, being designed and constructed by AC Development Corp., was approved by Stockton’s Board of Directors in May 2019.

Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, said New Jersey supported the project because of “how important it would be for the university, the students and the communities here in Atlantic County.”

“This project will continue the economic revitalization and increased access to higher education created through the opening of Stockton’s Atlantic City campus,” he said. “Institutions like Stockton provide so much for our communities, and it is clear that the investments New Jersey has made here are already paying off.”