While a pool has gotten far less likely for Sea Isle City after Tuesday’s voting, Lower Township may be in line for a new aquatic center as well as a new mayor.
Both Cape May County communities looked to voters on Nov. 4 for guidance on whether to build community pools. The ballot questions were nonbinding.
In Sea Isle City, 489 voters said no to installing a pool at the city’s recreation center in the former school building, compared with 386 yes votes, according to numbers posted by the Cape May County Clerk’s Office.
Jack Gibson, a member of Sea Isle City Council, said the vote makes a pool far less likely.
“I don’t think anybody should be optimistic about it at this point,” he said Wednesday, Nove. 5. He made clear that his was only one of seven votes, but said an informal poll on the city’s website, seeking input from second homeowners who will pay a significant portion of the costs, ran even stronger against with a margin of about four-to-one against.
He said he would need to have seen much stronger support to consider including a pool in the city’s plans.
The city is looking at extensive upgrades to the building at 4501 Park Road, which served as the city school for decades and as a temporary police station and city hall after Hurricane Sandy.
City officials say the existing building needs work to the HVAC system, new doors and windows and more. It needs to be improved to meet current federal accessibility standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
It does not meet current flood standards, either.
The city has considered a new building with office space, room for programs, a new gymnasium, with bleachers and a second floor, built to meet current flood standards. That would cost between $13 million and $16 million, according to officials. Including a pool would have been an additional $5 million, plus the annual cost of its operation and maintenance.
Another option would be to renovate the existing building, an option Gibson is leaning toward since the vote. But if the city spending on repairs gets close to the $2 million estimated value of the building, that would trigger a requirement to bring the building up to current flood standards, which may prove more expensive than starting new.
The building was built in 1971.
Lower Township voters said yes to building a new aquatic center at the Cape May County airport, with the unofficial tally coming in with a difference of less than 2 percentage points at 2,945 to 2,838.
Cape May County’s Open Space Fund has agreed to kick in up to $3 million toward the cost, which is estimated at $8.5 million.
In a recent interview, township manager James Ridgway said the plans would not change the tax rate, because the township is set to pay off some long-term debt before bonding for the proposed pool building.
He said the township can afford the project, citing a good bond rating, good financial condition for the township and low interest rates.
Because the referendum was nonbinding, the project will still need a vote from Township Council. Nov. 4’s vote is set to bring other changes to Lower Township, with the election of Mayor Erik Simonsen to the state Assembly. He’ll be obliged to step down from his municipal seat before taking the oath of office, as will Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan.
Ridgway was not immediately available Nov. 5 to answer questions of timing for council action. In previous interviews, he stated the final decision on whether to build a pool falls to the governing body.
The plans call for an eight-lane, competition-sized swimming pool and a 1,570-foot therapeutic pool, where moving water can be used for therapy programs for seniors. Those plans call for one end of the pool to slope very gradually, so that it could be entered using a water-adapted wheelchair.
If plans move forward, a new pool could be open by 2022, with the expectation of membership fees of $25 a month.