SEA ISLE CITY — As schools in the region have closed over the years, the decision to repurpose or demolish them often is fraught with nostalgia and costs.
Some buildings are transformed for other public uses, while some are torn down to make way for new structures.
As Sea Isle weighs its options for its former elementary school on Park Road, Mayor Leonard Desiderio said, he will be especially mindful of public input.
“Many of the people who come to Sea Isle City or live in Sea Isle City went to this school,” he said.
The school, which closed in 2011 due to declining enrollment, is situated opposite the bay and takes up an entire city block.
“It’s one of the most valuable pieces of property on the island,” Desiderio said.
In 2012, the school was used as the municipal building and police station after Hurricane Sandy flooded the previous City Hall. Desiderio said the building had to be retrofitted to accommodate a jail, courtroom and city offices, work that included knocking down walls and installing several safety features. Since the new City Hall opened in 2015 on JFK Boulevard, the school building has served as a recreation center for residents, offering fitness classes and open gym time.
Desiderio said the property will be maintained for recreational use, but just how is still in question. City Administrator George Savastano said the city has contracted Garrison Architects to do a conceptual study on what the future of the site will be.
“Of course, cost is No. 1. And what taxpayers want,” Desiderio said.
Several smaller school buildings in South Jersey have been preserved for public use. In Egg Harbor Township, the former Cardiff School on Spruce Avenue serves as a county family services center. Margate’s Union Avenue School is now City Hall.
Others have been demolished, such as the Rittenberg School in Egg Harbor City, which closed in 2011 after a new middle school was built. The building was demolished, and private senior housing was built in its place.
Egg Harbor City Mayor Lisa Jiampetti said it came down to money.
“The main reason was because it wasn’t ADA-compliant, and in order to make it ADA-compliant, it would have been more costly than building a new school,” Jiampetti said.
She said the developer, Conifer, couldn’t repurpose the building either, due to its age.
“You had to start fresh. It lacked a heating system. It was not updated at all. It was ancient. There was no way the developer was ever going to use that ever,” she said.
Conifer and Egg Harbor City entered into a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that has generated more than $60,000 per year in revenue for the city. In addition, the agreement helped the city fulfill its affordable-housing requirements, Jiampetti said.
She said the school, which was the city’s high school at one point, was well-loved by the residents and efforts were made to preserve historic aspects of the building.
Desiderio said Sea Isle’s school building has “good bones,” so repurposing it is still on the table. What’s not an option, he said, is selling the land.
“This building has so much potential, and we’re fortunate to be able to have this land and this building at this time,” he said.