By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
The words “Public School” have long been removed from the front entrance of the squat building that overlooks Park Road between 45th and 46th streets.
Soon, the entire building will be removed.
Sea Isle City is preparing to seek bids from contractors to demolish the former school as plans move ahead to build a $20 million community recreation center on the site. City Council is scheduled to authorize advertising for demolition bids at its meeting Tuesday.
If all goes as planned, the old school building will be torn down by the end of the year, city officials say. The school opened in 1971, but closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population.
However, 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 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.
Now, the building remains closed, with “No Trespassing” signs posted at the front entrance.
As a prelude to demolition, Sea Isle awarded a $116,000 contract in August for the removal of cancer-causing asbestos from the building. Asbestos was a common insulation material for pipes when the school was constructed in the 1970s.
The city’s architect and engineer are working on the final designs for the community recreation center. Preliminary architectural renderings unveiled last year depict a two-story building dominated by a glossy facade and accented by plenty of landscaping. The front entrance will overlook Central Avenue.
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.
Tentatively, construction on the new community recreation center is expected to begin next spring or summer and take about two years to complete, City Business Administrator George Savastano said.
“Hopefully, it opens for the summer of 2025,” he said in an interview in August.
The community center will occupy the block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.
Sea Isle once planned to complete the community center in 2023, then revised the timetable to 2024, before pushing it back again to 2025. The timetable has changed as the project has moved through the different preliminary stages leading up the old school’s demolition and then construction of the new building.
The city initially estimated the cost at between $10 million and $15 million, then revised it upward to between $13 million and $16 million, before settling on the current price tag of $20 million. Soaring construction costs nationwide caused by the COVID-19 pandemic were blamed by city officials for the escalating price.
City officials say the community center would have only a “minimal impact” on local taxes. Leon Costello, the city auditor, has estimated the project would cause local taxes to increase about $90 annually on a home assessed at $1 million.