By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City will reach out to all property owners – not just full-time residents – as it continues to gather public feedback whether a proposed community recreation center should include an indoor swimming pool.
The “pool or no pool” question is hardly trivial. The cost of an indoor pool would add millions of dollars in construction costs and an extra $500,000 to $1 million in annual operating expenses, according to city estimates.
Starting Oct. 23 and continuing to Nov. 5, all property owners will be able to fill out an online survey asking whether they support having a pool, or not, in the proposed recreation center.
Instructions for the survey – including where to go online – will be included in an insert in their October water and sewer bill, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
For more than a year, city officials have been discussing whether to redevelop the old public school at 4501 Park Road into a recreation center.
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.
“We want to hear from everybody, because they are the people who are going to pay for it,” City Council President J.B. Feeley said.
Feeley noted that the community survey results should give the city a good indication of just how heavily a pool would be used, if one is built. In the meantime, he said he continues to keep an “open mind” about whether the project should include a pool or not.
Separate from the online community survey for all property owners, the city will place a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot asking registered voters whether the recreation facility should include a pool.
During a recent Council meeting, some property owners who do not live full time in Sea Isle argued that the referendum should be opened up to all of the city’s taxpayers, not just the residents.
In response, Council announced plans Tuesday for the community survey, which will allow all property owners an opportunity to voice their opinion, giving city officials a broader snapshot of public sentiment about the pool.
“This will provide more information to elected officials so they can make a more informed decision,” Custer said. “The pool is a hotbed issue.”
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.
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.
City officials are studying different options for converting the old public school into a recreation complex. The school building 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 have also discussed the possibility of renovating the old school into a recreation center, at an estimated cost of $2 million. The renovation plan would be far less elaborate than building an entirely new recreation center and would not include a pool.
In addition to plans for the community survey and the ballot referendum, the city recently circulated a questionnaire 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.