By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Will Sea Isle City’s proposal for an indoor community pool sink or swim?
Residents will vote on a nonbinding referendum on Election Day asking them whether they support adding an indoor swimming pool to a proposed community recreation center that would be built in place of the former Sea Isle City Public School.
At the same time, property owners who don’t live in Sea Isle have the opportunity to voice their opinion on the same issue in an online survey that began Oct. 23 and ends 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 5. The survey can be found at www.seaislecitysurvey.com.
There is also a paper survey for property owners who don’t have a computer or internet service.
A “yes” vote would be in support of the pool. A “no” vote means the municipal recreation building should be designed and constructed without a public pool.
Sea Isle spokeswoman Katherine Custer explained that the referendum and online survey will help guide the city’s elected officials in their decision whether to include a pool in the proposed recreation center.
“We’re doing our best to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard,” Custer said. “Our city leaders very much want to know the will of the people. It’s that simple. It’s a big issue. It’s a big project.”
City Council President J.B. Feeley emphasized that neither he nor other members of the governing body have made up their mind about the pool.
The results of the referendum and online survey are not binding on city officials. The vote totals are seen as a way for City Council and Mayor Leonard Desiderio to gauge community sentiment.
“Ultimately, Council will make a decision on what is best for the city,” Feeley said. “No one has jumped up yet and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.”’
Feeley said he has heard a mix of opinions from people he has spoken to about the pool, making it impossible to predict the results of the referendum and online survey.
“I don’t really have a feel for it yet,” he said.
For more than a year, city officials have been discussing whether to redevelop the old public school at 4501 Park Road into a community recreation center. An indoor pool would add millions of dollars to the project.
According to figures released earlier by the city, the cost would range from $17 million to $20 million for a recreation center having a pool. There would be an additional cost of $500,000 to $1 million per year to staff and maintain the pool.
A project costing $17 million to $20 million would result in an extra $300 to $400 in local taxes annually on an average home assessed at $700,000, City Business Administrator George Savastano said during a June 29 town hall meeting on the project.
In comparison, a recreation center built without a pool would cost an estimated $13 million to $16 million. At that price, it would add between $100 and $200 annually in local taxes on a home assessed at $700,000, Savastano said.
The old school occupies an entire block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street, giving a large footprint to build a recreation facility. The school closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student enrollment.
The building is currently used for office space, storage, special events, community programs and public recreation in the gymnasium. City officials said the building is in need of a new heating and air-conditioning system, a modern gymnasium, new windows and doors and new handicap-accessible bathrooms. It also does not meet current flood standards.
City officials once considered the option of renovating the old school into a modest community recreation center – one lacking a pool – at a cost of $2 million. Feeley said members of City Council now prefer to build an entirely new recreation center in place of the old school building.
“We want to build a new building. That’s the consensus,” he said.
Separate from the nonbinding referendum and online survey, the city circulated a questionnaire earlier in the year asking the public whether a new recreation center should be built with or without a pool.
The questionnaire also gave respondents the option of supporting the school’s renovation into a recreation center.
Of the 773 completed questionnaires that were turned in to the city, 358 of the respondents favored building a new recreation center with a pool.
According to the results, 184 of the respondents were in favor of renovating the old school and 179 wanted the city to build a new recreation center without a pool.
Respondents were also given the choice of “none of the above.” That choice was selected by 52 respondents.
Custer said the referendum and online survey represent an even broader attempt by the city to let residents and other property owners express their opinion about a pool.
“I think this is the best path, frankly, because it allows everyone to share their voice,” she said.