By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s former public school was simply no match for the metal claws of two giant excavators that began turning the 50-year-old building into piles of broken glass, twisted metal and concrete rubble.
Demolition of the old school got underway Tuesday morning with absolutely no fanfare. There were no large crowds on hand to say a final farewell to a building that had served as a community centerpiece since the 1970s.
Culminating years of planning and discussion, the city is going to use the site at 4501 Park Road to build a $20 million community recreation center tentatively scheduled to open in early 2025.
In its final months, the old school building had become deteriorated while it stood empty. The words “Sea Isle City Public School” are no longer visible on the front of the building.
The two excavators that began demolishing the building started their work at the back of the school. Their metal claws tore gaping holes that quickly exposed the interior of the building, including the former gymnasium where countless schoolchildren played basketball and other sports over the years.
The old school closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population. However, the building 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 building 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 or tearing it down altogether.
Ultimately, city officials decided to redevelop the site with a new community recreation center. The project will unfold in two stages.
First, mounds of dirt will be piled on the site for a few months to go through a process known as “surcharging,” which will allow the soil to become compact enough for the community center to be built on top of it without settling.
The second phase will consist of constructing the community center itself. City Business Administrator George Savastano anticipates construction will begin by late spring or early summer. Competitive bids will be sought by the city from construction companies vying for the contract.
Construction is expected to take about 20 months to complete, a schedule that would put the grand opening in early 2025.
Architectural renderings of the community center unveiled earlier by the city show a two-story building featuring a glossy facade overlooking Central Avenue. Sea Isle officials say the building will include attractive architecture to blend in with the rest of the neighborhood.
The building’s proposed design reflects its dual role as a community center and recreation facility. There will be a large gymnasium, indoor walkway and workout space for recreation. The building will also include space that local community groups could use for meetings, events and other activities.
The project will be built on the block bordered by 45th Street, 46th Street, Park Road and Central Avenue.
Although the old school will be gone, Sea Isle officials have instructed the demolition contractor to save the building’s cornerstone and the mature trees surrounding the site. The trees will be incorporated in the community center’s landscaping design, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
It isn’t expected to take long for the school building to be completely demolished. The two excavators tore down large sections of the building’s rear side and roof on Tuesday amid the ominous sounds of shattered glass and broken wood.
Sea Isle awarded a nearly $355,000 demolition contract to R.E. Pierson Construction Co. Inc., of Pilesgrove, N.J. The company has experience demolishing much larger landmarks, including the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, N.J., and the Goethals Bridge in Elizabeth, N.J.