By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City’s former public school building remains shuttered and stark as it awaits the arrival of the wrecking ball.
Soon, that will happen.
The city has received competitive bids from demolition companies seeking the job. It appears the contract will go to R.E. Pierson Construction Co. Inc. of Pilesgrove, N.J.
R.E. Pierson submitted an apparent low bid of about $350,000 to demolish the old school building at 4501 Park Road, city officials said. City Council is expected to formally award R.E. Pierson the contract in December.
“This brings us one step closer to our future community center,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
By tearing down the old school building, the city will create room for construction of its proposed $20 million community recreation center that will occupy the block between Park Road, Central Avenue, 45th Street and 46th Street.
It is not yet clear how long it is expected to take R.E. Pierson to demolish the former school. However, the company has experience tearing down much larger landmarks, including the Sands Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, Virtua Hospital in Voorhees, N.J., and the Goethals Bridge in Elizabeth, N.J.
“R.E. Pierson is a very well-known company,” said George Savastano, Sea Isle’s business administrator.
For the old school, its demolition will end a half-century of history. The school opened in 1971, but closed in 2012 due to Sea Isle’s declining student population.
However, the building got a second life in late 2012 when it became a temporary City Hall after Hurricane Sandy pummeled the city. The police department and other municipal offices moved into the school building following severe damage to the old City Hall.
When Sea Isle’s new City Hall opened in 2015, the old school became largely empty again. Discussions began then about possibly repurposing the building as a community recreation facility or tearing it down altogether.
Now, the building remains closed, with “No Trespassing” signs posted at the front entrance. Its appearance has deteriorated.
As a prelude to demolition, Sea Isle awarded a $116,000 contract in August for the removal of cancer-causing asbestos from the building. Asbestos was a common insulation material for pipes when the school was constructed in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the city’s architect and engineer are working on the final designs for the community recreation center. Preliminary architectural renderings unveiled last year depict a two-story building dominated by a glossy facade and accented by plenty of landscaping. The front entrance will overlook Central Avenue.
The building’s proposed design reflects its dual role as a community center and recreation facility. There will be a large gymnasium, indoor walkway and workout space for recreation. The building will also include space that local community groups could use for meetings, events and other activities.
Savastano explained that the project will be done in two phases. First, mounds of dirt will be piled on the site for a few months to go through a process known as “surcharging,” which will allow the soil to become compact enough for the community center to be built on top of it without settling.
The second phase will consist of constructing the community center itself. Savastano anticipates the city will seek construction bids next spring.
Barring any major delays, construction will likely begin either in the summer or fall of 2023. A grand opening is expected in late 2024 or the first half of 2025, Savastano said.