Long Beach Island Board of Education No Longer Pursuing Possible Sale of LBI Grade School to Ship Bottom

Jan 25, 2017

The Long Beach Island Board of Education has officially decided to abandon the possibility of selling the LBI Grade School to the borough of Ship Bottom, and instead intends to sell the property to the highest bidder. “We did not get the support of resolutions from all five boroughs regarding the sale of the LBI property to Ship Bottom, so the board has decided (by consensus) to move on and away from that option,” board President James Donahower explained.

A referendum will most likely be held in September, so taxpayers can vote on whether to support the cost of the associated addition to the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School, estimated at $15.1 million at the time of the board’s submission to the state Department of Education.

“At Tuesday's meeting there were additional costs mentioned, but the architect did not have the numbers for those costs,” some of which were from engineering inspections and items that must be added to the existing plan, said board Vice President Jennifer Bott. She added, “Due to the fact that we are not going for a March referendum, the architect stated that the cost would increase due to rising costs and changes in the economy. Those cost estimates were not available.”

However, the total cost – and tax impact – would decrease after factoring in the grade school sale proceeds as well as debt service aid and the single-site savings.

The board has intended for years to sell the LBI School to fund expansion of the E.J. School, in Surf City, to then house all the district’s students. In 2011, the school was listed for $9.5 million. The price was later reduced.

Ship Bottom, which does not want to see the grade school property become a housing development, offered last year to purchase the property for $4 million, and to keep the building and open space. If that arrangement had moved forward, a  referendum for about $6 million, to make up the difference in price, was to go before voters, said Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck.

If the borough purchased the property, the mayor pointed out, the students would have been able to remain in the LBI School until all work on the E.J. School was complete. And, he added, Ship Bottom would have also assumed the responsibility of working to clear a tidelands claim; Huelsenbeck believes it would take 18 months to clear the title. As Bott said during a meeting last year, the board decided the tidelands claim would be part of a sale, rather than cleared up beforehand by the board itself.

When the board agreed to pursue a sale to Ship Bottom, though, it stipulated that the district’s five sending municipalities (all the LBI towns except Beach Haven, which has its own school) approve a resolution backing a referendum in connection to a sale at, and because of, a reduced purchase price for the borough. Most of the towns, but not all, followed through with a resolution.

“The resolutions – they brought that upon themselves,” Huelsenbeck remarked. “They’re an autonomous board; they can sell the school to whomever they want without any interference from the towns.

“That’s a blockade they put in place.”

Without the resolutions in place, though, as Donahower noted, “We are now returning to the plan of selling the property to the highest bidder. A September referendum looks to be a likely part of that plan.

“I personally am heartbroken that the plan to keep the property in community hands – as a park, as a natural/protected space, as a community center, etc – has failed. I did not want, and I do not want, to see the school property become 35 or 55 homes. But I have to let that particular dream go. We have to move on. Because the real dream – the one we can still fulfill – is the beautiful, new school for our kids. If Plan A does not work, you move on to Plan B.”

The next LBI Board of Education meeting is Feb. 21. The board meets at 7 p.m. in the media center of the E.J. School, at 200 South Barnegat Ave. in Surf City.

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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