SEA ISLE CITY — About 60 people turned out Tuesday morning to plead with City Council to convert the public elementary school into a recreation center once the building is vacated next year following the opening of the new City Hall/Public Safety complex.
The school, which hasn’t housed a student in more than two years as Sea Isle City buses the majority of its 140 children to Ocean City schools, has served as a temporary headquarters for City Hall and the Police Department since Hurricane Sandy destroyed those buildings in October 2012. The discussion of the ultimate disposal of the building, which was donated to the city by the Board of Education, dominated the two-hour meeting.
“I support a recreation center,” said Sheila Ruhl, of the 200 block of 85th Street. “Give the 2,000 residents of this town some place to go and something to do. Please give us a recreation center.”
“Everybody wants recreation and everybody wants a pool,” said Chris Glancey, president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Before opening up the meeting to public comment, council had discussed its ideas for repurposing the building. In light of recent aggressive capital spending, Councilwoman Mary Tighe recommended taking a protracted approach to the building’s ultimate end use.
“Let’s keep what we got for a little bit, and take five, six years to decide,” she said.
But Jeri Musselman, of the 200 block of 85th Street, said that was too long. “The problem with a five-year plan is we’re all five years older at the end of that time,” she said.
“What we’re hearing is we really want a pool. Now,” said Brian Heritage, of 37th Street. “Not later. Now.”
“There are a lot of ways you can cover this,” said Linda Layton, of the 4400 block of Venicean Road, suggesting soliciting donations, holding fund-raisers and charging membership fees. “Do it sooner. Do not put it on the back burner for five years.”
“From 80 to 8, these people want this,” Councilman Frank Edwardi said. “We have the place. We can’t just keep pushing this off.”
Councilman Bill Kehner suggested the first year of a five-year plan include hiring an engineering firm to expose the building’s shortcomings. “This was built in 1971,” he said of the school. “Is it ready to go another 50 years?”
“The mayor had said this building was not going to come down,” said Anne Organ, of the 200 block of 39th Street, echoing the concerns of resident Anthony Kutschera over the possibility the city-owned lot at 4501 Park Road would be sold to make way for more housing.
“My opinion is I would not like to see this building come down for houses or other things,” Mayor Len Desiderio answered her. Later, Desiderio said the bottom line, as always, would be cost and the impact on taxpayers in deciding what path to follow.
“It’s just memories,” Musselman said of the reluctance of some residents to let the building go. “We have to move on.”
The school would require major and expensive retrofitting to become a recreation center, said Andy Ferrilli, of the 300 block of 38th Street. He pointed out the lack of ADA access to bathrooms that are scaled to the size of elementary school children as just one example of work that would need to be done to make the facility usable to all.
“Sometimes, you’ll spend more money making it what you want,” he said.
Council President John Divney said he appreciated the public input and encouraged the residents in attendance to continue this discourse with the city as June 2015 and the scheduled opening of the new city municipal complex draws closer.
Contact Cindy Nevitt:
@ACPress_Nevitt on Twitter