Mayor Leonard Desiderio, at left, and other elected officials toss some shovelfuls of dirt to symbolically begin construction on Sea Isle City's future community center.


For now, it is little more than a muddy patch of land crowded with bulldozers, earthmovers, a gigantic crane and mountainous piles of dirt.

But an architectural rendering gives a sneak peek of Sea Isle City’s $21 million community recreation center that will be built on the site and is expected to open in fall 2025.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio repeatedly stressed the importance of the project during a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday that marked the official start of construction on the community center.

“Welcome to our historic day here in Sea Isle City. This is a long time coming,” Desiderio said while alluding to the years of planning, designing and community discussions leading up to the actual construction of the project.

Exaggerating just slightly, he told the crowd at the rain-soaked ceremony that the community center will be used “eight days a week once it is open.”

Desiderio and other local, county and state elected officials tossed some shovelfuls of dirt in the air to symbolically start construction of the project on the property bordered by Park Road and Central Avenue between 45th and 46th streets.

To encourage the entire community to participate in the event, city workers and members of the public were also invited to pick up the shovels and throw some dirt in celebration. Mementos from the ceremony will be saved for a time capsule.

The community center went through a number of iterations before the final concept was created. The design reflects the facility’s 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 may use for meetings, events and other activities.

Heavy machinery crowds the site as construction gets underway.

While describing the dimensions of the gym, Desiderio said it will contain an NBA-sized basketball court that could lead to some big things for Sea Isle in the future in partnership with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We’re hoping to lure – don’t laugh at this – the 76ers here for some kind of activities in the summertime,” Desiderio told the crowd.

The community center will also include a covered parking area underneath the building at street level that will have 40 spaces. An elevator will connect the parking garage to the main building.

One amenity that the community center will not have is a swimming pool. During a 2019 referendum, local property owners voted overwhelmingly against including an indoor pool in the community center. The fear at that time was that a pool would make the project much more expensive for Sea Isle taxpayers.

Architectural renderings of the community center 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.

From left, Mayor Leonard Desiderio, architect Henry Hengchua and Sea Isle’s Community Services Director Katherine Custer stand in front of a rendering of the project.

Architect Henry Hengchua noted that he walked around the surrounding neighborhood many times for inspiration while creating the design for the community center.

“The mayor gave me the room and freedom to design the building. But it’s not about me. It’s what the community wants,” Hengchua said in an interview.

He called the design process “the culmination of many people working together.”

To make room for construction of the community center, the city demolished the old Sea Isle City Public School at 4501 Park Road last year. The community center will occupy the same footprint of the old school on the block bordered by Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.

The city’s construction contractor, Ernest Bock & Sons Inc. of Philadelphia, is scheduled to complete the project by fall 2025.

State Assemblyman Antwan McClellan, second from left, presents Mayor Leonard Desiderio with a state proclamation recognizing the importance of the project.

Family-owned Bock & Sons has built a diversified portfolio of more than $3 billion worth of public and private projects in the Philadelphia area, New Jersey and Mid-Atlantic region during its 75-year history.

Some of its notable projects include the $100 million Camden High School, the $40 million Atlantic County criminal courthouse complex in Mays Landing, a $233 million addition to the Montgomery County Justice Center in Norristown, Pa., and a $100 million, 10-story luxury condominium in Philadelphia.

Bock & Sons also built the 227-foot-tall Ferris wheel-like attraction at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City and the Philadelphia Flyers practice facility in Voorhees, N.J.

Mayor Leonard Desiderio addresses the crowd.
Members of the public also pick up the shovels to toss some dirt at the ceremony.