Mount Laurel to accept proposals for operation of Paws Farm through end of year

A pygmy goat on site at the Paws Discovery Farm Wednesday, March 1 in Mount Laurel.

MOUNT LAUREL — Advocates hoping to save Paws Discovery Farm from permanent closure now have until the end of the year to submit a proposal to take over its operation. 

The township council agreed Monday to reopen its request for proposals (RFP) to operate the educational farm and accept submissions through the end of the year. 

Township attorney George Morris said only one incomplete proposal had been received by the Sept. 1 deadline, and proposed for the township to continue accepting submissions due to complications the current pandemic may have created for interested parties. 

“Nobody completely understood the effect of COVID-19 with the complete shutdown,” Morris said at the council’s meeting on Sept. 14. “I’m not sure the vendors had a complete opportunity to digest what was in the RFP.” 

A potbelly pig takes a drink of water on site at the Paws Discovery Farm Wednesday, March 1 in Mount Laurel.

The township is also going to scale back the requirements of the RFP in some areas to encourage new submissions by the new deadline, Morris said. 

The Hainesport-Mount Laurel Road center closed abruptly on Feb. 25 after its operator, the Cherry Hill-based Discovery Museum, backed out of its contract with the township to manage the farm due to mounting financial costs. 

Its closing was met with surprise and despair across the South Jersey community, and several efforts were put together to try and save the farm. 

Kay Weeder, who said at the council meeting she was working the farm’s founders Charles and Kate Tweedy to put together a proposal, had asked for the scaled-back requirements. 

“I urge council to look closely at the RFP being sent out because some of the requirements are really not necessary to the successful running of Paws on a temporary basis,” Weeder said. “In middle of pandemic, you may need a group that can just offer something that can run Paws on dedication and heart on a short basis until you can get full-blown staff proposal.” 

A Scottish Highland cattle breed on site at the Paws Discovery Farm Wednesday, March 1 in Mount Laurel.

The Tweedys previously submitted a proposal back in early spring to run the farm on a temporary basis. 

This is the third time the township has re-opened its RFP for the farm’s operation since Discovery Museum backed out. 

Advocates thanked the township for extending the time to submit a proposal. 

“We’re glad to hear it’s being extended, and thought that some of the questions were a little excessive,” said Pat Halbe, former manager and clerk who oversaw the operation of Paws Farm for 17 years. Halbe was a trustee on an earlier proposal to save the farm.  

Township officials have said according to figures provided by the Discovery Museum, it costs an estimated $500,000 to run the farm annually, and it was operating the farm at an annual loss of $100,000. 

A peacock perches on a bench on site at the Paws Discovery Farm Wednesday, March 1 in Mount Laurel.

The Paws Farm was established in 1979 during the renovation of the 1782 Darnell Family Farmstead, and was home to around 200 animals, several nature trails, gardens and a discovery barn. The Discovery Museum took over the operation of the farm in 2017 from the township. 

The township expects to reopen the RFP in the next week or two. The deadline to submit proposals will be Dec. 30.