By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Community sentiment seems to be leaning in favor of what would be the most expensive option for redeveloping the former Sea Isle City Public School into a recreation center – a project that could cost as much as $20 million.
The results of a public questionnaire that produced more than 700 responses showed that most people support the idea of demolishing the old school and building a new community recreation center. There is a split in public opinion, though, whether a new recreation complex should include an indoor pool.
The city circulated the questionnaire as discussions continue about the fate of the old school, which was built in 1971 and closed down in 2012 amid Sea Isle’s declining student population.
Next, the city will place a non-binding referendum on the November ballot asking Sea Isle’s registered voters whether they support turning the school property at 4501 Park Road into a recreation facility.
City officials are gathering public feedback before any decisions are made on the final cost and design of the school’s redevelopment – or whether to even go forward with the project.
“Obviously, we’re at a point where the elected officials are in a position to get as much information as possible. They want to have a general feeling with regard to what to do overall with that property,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
Three options are under consideration: Renovate the old school into a community recreation center, build a new recreation center that does not have a pool, or build one that does include a pool.
In the questionnaire, members of the public were asked to choose among those three options. They also had the choice of “none of the above.”
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 want the city to build a new recreation center without a pool.
The choice of “none of the above” was selected by 52 respondents.
“Building a new recreation facility is the general direction,” Custer said of the results.
Full results are available on the city’s website at http://www.sea-isle-city.nj.us/ under the “Questionnaire Results” section.
The project garnering the most support among the questionnaire’s respondents would be the most expensive option and would also have the biggest impact on local taxes.
The estimated cost to build a recreation center that includes a pool ranges from $17 million to $20 million. In addition, it would cost an estimated $500,000 to $1 million annually for maintenance and staffing of a pool, city officials say.
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, according to City Business Administrator George Savastano.
There would be no increase in local taxes if the city simply renovated the school at an estimated cost of $2 million. The renovation plan would be far more modest than building an entirely new recreation complex. It would not include a pool.
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.
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.
In 2015, the city conducted a community survey asking the public for suggestions on what should be done with the old school. The highest number of respondents, or 36 percent, proposed having the building redeveloped as a park or recreation site. The second-highest response was to use the property as a parking lot.
Custer said the 2015 survey served as a catalyst for the current discussions on the old school’s proposed redevelopment.