The city plans to demolish the old public school site on Park Road to develop a community recreation center.


Sea Isle City’s former public school has been on borrowed time ever since formal plans were unveiled in 2019 to demolish the building and transform the property into a community recreation center.

However, frustration is mounting that the deteriorated building that dates to the 1970s is still standing and more progress has not been made on the redevelopment plans for the property at 4501 Park Road.

Members of the Sea Isle Recreation Committee, at a board meeting Tuesday night, expressed their disappointment that the old school has become an eyesore while preliminary discussions drag on about the proposed community center, including the estimated $20 million cost.

“It’s looking pretty bad when you drive by,” Recreation Committee Chairman Arthur Iannone said.

Iannone added that the old school is in such bad shape that it appears to be abandoned, even though it is not.

Andy Bednarek, another Recreation Committee member, also was critical of the run-down condition of the building.

“That building over there is a disgrace. This town deserves better,” Bednarek said.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio’s administration formally unveiled plans at a town hall meeting in 2019 to tear down the old school to make room for a new community recreation center. The city had been kicking around ideas for using the site for some type of recreation project years before the formal plans were presented to the public.

Iannone asserted that is taking far too long to demolish the old building and get the recreation center project started.

“I think we really need to move forward on this building,” he said.

He warned that the construction cost would likely climb higher than the estimated $20 million price tag if the recreation center is delayed much longer.

“If you keep dragging it out, it’s going to cost more when you pull the trigger,” Iannone said.

The former school, which was built in 1971, closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population. The building occupies the entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.

The words “Public School” are barely visible now on the front entrance of the aging building.

Plans continue to unfold for the development of the community recreation center. An architect is working on the latest set of designs for a project that is expected to be one of the city’s centerpieces for decades to come.

Previously, Sea Isle officials had estimated the construction cost at $15 million, but now believe the price will be closer to $20 million. City spokeswoman Katherine Custer said the cost of lumber and other building materials has risen dramatically during the pandemic.

“It’s a big, big number,” Bednarek said of the $20 million cost.

Bednarek, who supports the recreation center project, believes city officials may have to be more aggressive in justifying the cost to the Sea Isle property owners who will pay for it.

“It’s like anything, you have to go out and educate the citizens,” he said.

He also said that the city should be ready to fully explain the tax implications of the project to the public.

Custer, who represents the Desiderio administration at the Recreation Committee meetings and serves as board secretary, said it appears there would be only a small tax increase – or possibly none at all – to fund the project.

“If taxes do go up, I don’t think it’s going to be much,” she said.

At some point, City Council will vote to approve the designs as well as the funding package to build the project. Custer said some Council members have indicated they are “hesitant” about the cost.

The city administration is expected to present a resolution at the Council meeting on Oct. 12 that says the city has completed the concept work for the project and “we are ready to move forward,” Custer said.

Iannone wondered whether members of the Recreation Committee should appear at the Council meeting to advocate for the project.

“The town wants the community center,” Iannone said. “It’s just another piece of the puzzle to make the town complete.”

As another way to try to speed up the project, Bednarek suggested that the Recreation Committee should call a special meeting and invite members of City Council to discuss the plans.

An architectural rendering depicts what Sea Isle City’s proposed community recreation center will look like at the front entrance. (Courtesy of Sea Isle City)

In another potential snag, Iannone and Bednarek indicated they are worried that the recreation center might be competing with the city’s flood-mitigation projects for funding.

“We’re competing for money. We’re at a crossroads now,” Iannone said.

Bednarek said some local residents have told him that they want to see flood-control projects completed first, before the city builds the community recreation project.

In recent years, Sea Isle has given top priority for flood-mitigation projects to help protect the low-lying island from stormwater.

Custer assured the Recreation Committee that the city plans to continue with its flood-mitigation program at the same time it considers building the community recreation project. She said flood-control projects will not take “a back seat” to the recreation center.

Far more than a recreation facility, the proposed building will include meeting space and other amenities to serve its dual role as a community center.

According to preliminary plans, the new facility would include a large gymnasium featuring a regulation-size basketball court that could also be converted into pickleball courts and a volleyball court.

The gym would include retractable bleachers holding about 175 spectators. A retractable divider net would allow the gym to be sectioned off for other activities.

Overlooking the gym on the building’s second level would be a “skywalk” for walking and jogging.

The first floor would also have a workout room for such activities as yoga, Zumba and Pilates.

In addition to the recreation facilities, the building would also include a large community room capable of holding more than 140 people. Local community groups would be able to use the room for their meetings and other activities.

This architectural rendering gives an aerial perspective of the community recreation center. (Courtesy of Sea Isle City)