Since the Sea Isle City Elementary School closed in the summer the city government has been trying to find a use for the vacant building.
Hurricane Sandy provided an unwelcome answer: with the first floor of the 106-year-old City Hall flooded and ruined, the school has now become the new city hall for the foreseeable future.
The old hall will likely be demolished and replaced with an entirely new facility, Mayor Len Desiderio said Wednesday while workers renovated classrooms around him to be converted into offices.
"Right now we have to just deal with this," he said.
Government entities are still recovering from the Oct. 29 superstorm just as much as many homeowners and businesses in South Jersey, affecting locals even when they leave their damaged properties to go to school or pay taxes.
Ocean City had more than a dozen government buildings damaged by the flood, and the first floor of City Hall remains closed because of storm damage. City employees have been relocated to offices in City Council’s meeting chambers, while council meetings are being held at the public library.
Almost all the government buildings on Long Beach Island in Ocean County were affected in some way. Both Beach Haven's Borough Hall and its lone school are still closed, with students from the school district going to nearby Eagleswood Township. The Long Beach Island Consolidated School District’s grade school also remains closed.
Stone Harbor Elementary School may remain closed until February because of the damage about 8 inches of water did to the building's walls and floors. Children from the K-4 school are currently going to Avalon Elementary School.
Stacey Tracy, the chief school administrator of the recently merged districts, said Avalon has enough space for the 74 children from the Stone Harbor school. Avalon's building is at a higher elevation and fared well through the storm.
In Stone Harbor, flood gates installed at the doors simply did not work. All the drywall had to be ripped out up to 4 feet high, the carpeting and vinyl flooring was removed, and what items could not be dried out had to be thrown out.
"I think it was just the weight of the water," Tracy said, explaining that the streets outside the school regularly flood but the water has never spilled inside like it did three weeks ago.
There was also a small electrical fire in one of the offices due to the water, but it only melted a few wires.
Tracy said it will take months to reopen the building. They had to order a new HVAC system this week, and that will take six weeks to arrive.
Part of the school was built in the 1960s, but another section was added in the '90s. That newer part was unharmed because it is raised higher than the older section.
Sea Isle's school also received almost no damage from the storm. It is raised just high enough to have escaped the flooding that was three feet high in some parts of the island.
Desiderio and City Business Administrator George Savastano said they expect to be in the school for at least two years, and it was clear that they were fully proceeding with plans to stay for a while this week.
Crews knocked out walls and built a raised, plywood platform in the former teacher's lounge to serve as a courtroom. The metal brackets used to hold a now-gone Smart Board pointed downward in the middle of the room.
Library shelves were moved out and replaced with desks and computers. Police vehicles filled the playground, including the military cargo truck they used to rescue families during the storm.
By Monday, all city government will operate out of the school.
Savastano said the city will solicit extensive public comment on the plans for the old City Hall, but he said the situation mainly comes down to whether it is worth restoring the facility when it was not built above flood level in the first place and is vulnerable to a future storm.
He thinks the answer for what to do with that building was also made obvious by Sandy.
"It had a good run," he said.
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