By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City officials Tuesday unveiled the town’s new five-year capital plan, a broad blueprint for a series of construction projects that will include a new community recreation center costing an estimated $15 million.
Altogether, the plan proposes spending a total of $43 million from 2021 to 2025 for road, drainage and flood-mitigation projects, improvements to the beaches, bayfront and Promenade and other upgrades to the city’s infrastructure.
The capital plan is essentially a guide for the projects the city hopes to undertake in the next five years, but does not represent a guarantee they will all be built within that timeframe. Funding for each project would have to be approved later by City Council.
“It’s a plan. It’s a framework. It is a starting point to help us focus our infrastructure and capital works,” Paula Doll, the city’s chief financial officer, told the Council members during a workshop Tuesday on the capital plan conducted by teleconference amid the pandemic.
City officials are mainly concentrating on the projects proposed in 2021 because of the need to get them started in the months ahead. Total capital spending for 2021 is proposed at $19.3 million, including improvements to the municipal water and sewer system.
The big-ticket project proposed in 2021 is the redevelopment of Sea Isle’s former public school into a community recreation center. The price tag is estimated at $15 million, but a more detailed architectural analysis is expected to be submitted in December to pin down the cost.
“That’s the largest project in the capital plan. That’s the major item,” City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
Although construction is expected to begin in 2021, the community center isn’t scheduled to open until spring 2023, barring any delays with the project as it moves through different phases from the drawing board to groundbreaking.
The city is planning to demolish the old public school at 4501 Park Road to make way for the community center. The school, which closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population, occupies the entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.
Built above flood levels, the community center would occupy the same footprint as the former school. However, the front would face Central Avenue, unlike the old school’s main entrance overlooking Park Road.
Far more than a recreation facility, the building would also include a proposed cafeteria, catering kitchen, meeting space and a 140-seat auditorium for plays and other cultural events as part of its dual role as a community center.
One of the centerpieces would be a large gymnasium featuring a regulation-size basketball court, pickleball courts, retractable bleachers and partitions to divide the space for other recreation activities.
Overlooking the gym on a second level would be an elevated “sky walkway” for exercising. There would also be multipurpose recreation rooms for such activities as yoga, Zumba and Pilates.
The project’s impact on the local tax rate will be outlined later during a public presentation to City Council, Savastano said. No date has been set yet for the presentation.
During the workshop, former Councilman John Divney was the only member of the public to ask questions about the capital plan. He focused his remarks on the community recreation center, noting that it is unclear whether such an expensive project will be heavily used by the public.
“I have some concerns whether the facility will be utilized based on the amount of money we’re going to be putting into it,” Divney said.
Divney said the public should know the cost of all of the proposed individual amenities inside the community center, including the auditorium and the elevated walkway, as the city begins the process of deciding whether they will be included in the final design.
Savastano assured Divney that the city will provide a breakdown of those costs to the public and Council. The city is also conducting an analysis to determine the projected usage for the building’s different amenities, he added.
The capital plan also includes a series of drainage and road projects scattered across town to reduce flooding on the low-lying barrier island. Altogether, the city plans to spend $2.3 million on road and drainage construction in 2021.
Savastano said the flood-mitigation projects may also include a $1.5 million stormwater pumping station for the area from Landis Avenue to the bay, from 44th to 47th streets. Pumping stations are able to remove stormwater off the streets faster once flooding occurs.
Sea Isle is seeking a federal grant to help pay for the proposed pumping station. Savastano explained that if the grant isn’t approved, the city will have to make a decision whether to finance the project all on its own.
Also proposed in the capital plan for 2021 is a new dog park costing an estimated $200,000. The city is considering the possibility of building the dog park in the north end of town between Fifth and Eighth streets, an area now used as a parking lot. Construction would be in 2021 or 2022, Savastano said.
New pickleball courts costing an estimated $350,000 are another major project proposed for 2021. The paved courts will be built next to the city’s municipal marina on 42nd Place in an area known as the “clam shell parking lot.” The parking lot is so named because of the crushed white clam shells that make up the surface.
“Pickleball, as a lot of folks know, has kind of exploded in this region. There’s tremendous demand for that,” Savastano explained of the city’s plans for the new courts.
Now that the capital plan has been publicly unveiled, the next step calls for City Council to give its formal approval, which is expected at the Dec. 8 meeting.
“It sounds good to us so far,” Council President William Kehner said of the governing body’s initial reaction to the plan.
Although the capital plan will likely be approved on Dec. 8, Council would not authorize funding for the projects until sometime in 2021.