Sea Isle City Council’s biggest decision in 2013 will likely be to decide whether to spend more than $13 million on a new municipal hall.

City Hall on Landis Avenue and the public safety building on JFK Boulevard were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, and since then city employees have been working in makeshift offices in the former elementary school on Park Road.

Both government structures were already considered inadequate before the storm, and that has made local leaders reluctant to spend money on repairing them. Instead, they are considering knocking down both and rebuilding.

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Mayor Len Desiderio said such a process could take two years, so he wants to make a decision early in the New Year to possibly break ground by the spring.

“It’s all up to the cost and what we feel is going to be best for everyone here in Sea Isle,” he said.

Sea Isle is looking at three options: rebuilding new structures in place of the current ones, reconfiguration or rebuilding at the elementary school site, or constructing one consolidated building on JFK Boulevard.

Estimated costs for those projects range from $11.6 million to $13.2 million, with the single new complex being the most expensive. It isn’t clear yet how much money the city will receive through insurance and FEMA reimbursement for its damages and any new construction.

The current City Hall dates to 1906; the public safety building was built in 1977. Neither is elevated above modern flood level standards, fully handicapped accessible or optimally designed to fit all the local government’s operations.

Both had two nearly feet of water in their first floors during Sandy and the council does not want to merely remediate with the hope that another storm will not just do the same thing.

“If we rebuild, we’re going to rebuild for the 23rd Century,” he said.

John Fee, the new president of the Sea Isle City Taxpayers Association, said locals are assembling information about the city’s plans before forming a general opinion.

“I think we’re still trying to absorb all the facts,” Fee said. “Our role right now seems to be fact gathering.”

Desiderio said his administration is leaning toward constructing the single complex on JFK to house all city operations. The city has promoted that idea in newsletters since the storm, saying there are “inherent benefits” in consolidation.

The council held a public workshop to discuss the project and its place in the city’s five-year capital plan on Saturday, Dec. 15, and it likely will be discussed at the next council meeting on Thursday. The meeting will be held in the “school hall,” as Desiderio calls the school building that is the city government’s temporary home.

The school was built in 1971. It has more square footage than the public safety building and city hall combined, but it is also not fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, is lower than the FEMA standard and would require reconfigurations that the city estimates costing $11.6 million.

Prior to the storm, the city was conducting a review of its facilities and considered acquiring the school in order to open a public gymnasium there. The non-functioning school district still owns the property.

In a recent SICTA newsletter, some of the questions that remain are how the school would be used if a new complex is built, where municipal operations would be housed if the school is rebuilt and whether the supposed benefits of consolidating services into one building could be quantified.

“We know it takes time to answer these questions and we know the City has to move quickly,” the newsletter reads, “but there are significant expenditures involved. Although speed is of the essence, SICTA would like to be sure that all of the financial questions have been answered before commitments are made.”

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