By Donald Wittkowski
Three dilapidated modular units that once served as an expansion at the former Sea Isle City Public School will be demolished in a first step toward possibly turning the school site into a community recreation center.
City Council has awarded a $133,850 contact to Transformation Enterprises Inc., of Egg Harbor Township, to tear down the trailer-like units. Under the contract, the company has until May 16 to complete the work, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
The modular units were added to the back of the school in the 1980s when more space was needed to accommodate what was then Sea Isle’s growing student population.
Now, those same trailers are a symbol of the city’s dying school system. When the school closed down in 2012 due, ironically, to declining student enrollment, the trailers became a weather-beaten eyesore.
Dan Tumolo, Sea Isle’s Board of Education president, noted in an interview last year that the old trailers have been “ratty” at least since 2010. In 2010, the board took over the school from the city and began considering ways to renovate it, including the possibility of tearing down the trailers, he said.
The renovation project was never built, but the old school got a second life in late 2012 when it became a temporary City Hall after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the city. The police department and other municipal offices moved into the school following severe damage to the old City Hall.
When Sea Isle’s new City Hall opened in 2015, the old school became largely empty again. Discussions began then about possibly repurposing the building as a community recreation facility.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio has formed a committee that includes members of Council and local residents to work with a city consultant on ways to transform the school into recreation. The committee’s findings will be presented to the public at a later date.
Among the options, the committee will consider whether the existing school should be converted into a recreation center or whether a new building should be constructed, including the possibility of adding an indoor community pool.
When the city was in the early stages of updating its master plan, a community survey was conducted in 2015 asking the public for suggestions on what should be done with the school. The highest number of respondents, or 36 percent, proposed having the building redeveloped as a park or recreation site.
“The clear message from the community during the master plan process was to retain the site for recreational purposes. The challenge before us is to determine the scope of the work to be undertaken to the current building,” Desiderio said in his State of the City address on Feb. 13.
Demolishing the old modular trailers is considered a prelude to the school’s conversion into recreation. During the school’s active years, the trailers served as a library, office space, a teachers’ lounge and a handicapped bathroom, Tumolo said.
The school, built in 1971, occupies an entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street. Although the building itself is generally sound, it sits below the elevation considered safe for flood protection under current standards, Desiderio said.
“Given this, we are limited to some degree to the amount of renovation that can be performed to the building,” the mayor said. “In any event, cost estimates will be prepared for all of our options, and, as with past projects, working together as a community we’ll do what is best for the city.”