LBI Board of Education Exploring Open Space Solution to Address Failed 2017 Consolidation Referendum

Jan 08, 2019

The new year brings new questions for the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education, including whether the state Department of Environmental Protection would be interested in purchasing either the LBI Grade School or the E.J. School for use as a natural park.

At its last meeting of 2018, board President James Donahower presented two separate motions seeking approval to explore the options under the DEP’s Green Acres/Blue Acres programs, saying the idea “was in the mix before the referendum.”

Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City overwhelmingly defeated a September 2017 referendum built around expanding and renovating the Ethel A. Jacobsen School so the district could consolidate nearly 230 students into the school beginning with the 2018-19 school year. The plans were designed by DiCara Rubino Architects, a Wayne, N.J.-based firm, and included the handling of official paperwork and approvals.

In 2015, the school board sought funding under the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund program in an attempt to preserve the LBI School lot in Ship Bottom as open space, but the district wasn’t eligible for funding. A dedicated tax provides the county Board of Chosen Freeholders with the funds to acquire lands within the county for conservation, with a nine-member advisory committee tasked with advising on the preparation of the required open space plan and the nomination of properties.

The board may have better luck with the state Coastal Blue Acres program, which was created under the Green Acres, Farmland, Historic Preservation and Blue Acres Bond Act of 1995, according to its website. The act defines coastal areas as areas within the CAFRA zone. Roughly 120 municipalities in eight counties are eligible for funding.

“Coastal area lands eligible for purchase with CBA funds can be lands anywhere on a coastal barrier island, lands within 150 feet landward of the mean high-water line of any tidal water, or lands within 150 feet of the landward limit of a beach or dune,” according to the program’s website.

Founded in 1961, the state Green Acres Program was designed to meet New Jersey’s growing recreation and conservation needs. In nearly six decades, it’s protected more than a half a million acres of open space while providing outdoor recreational facilities in communities statewide, according to the DEP.

“As of right now the board of education is exploring all options for our buildings,” Chris Kelly, business administrator for the elementary district, said earlier this week.

Last fall, those options included the updating of an April 2015 report on repairing the 1960s-era LBI School as well as geo-tech analysis of the proposal. Frank Little, a principal in Owen, Little and Associates of Beachwood, was retained for both proposal projects.

At the time, Kelly said only a handful of pilings were visible in the update of the April 2015 report and “there are hundreds of pilings.”

A geotechnical report, according to NorthStar, a multi-disciplinary engineering, architecture, surveying, planning and environmental consulting firm based on the West Coast, is a tool used to communicate the site conditions and design and construction recommendations to the site design, building design and construction personnel.

The LBI School was built with a structural steel roof framing that consists of open web steel joists, steel beams supporting the metal roof deck and steel columns.

Kelly said the geo-tech analysis would allow for further review of the pilings underneath the school. There is no timeframe for the analysis, but the district is hoping to have it completed sooner rather than later.

Discussion of consolidating the district’s two schools began in the spring of 2010, and a feasibility study soon followed, after which the board voted to sell the LBI School, and renovate and expand the E.J. School, in Surf City. In the almost 18 months since the referendum was shot down, board members have periodically met with municipal officials in a bid to bridge the gap many believed led to the failure of the $18.4 million project.

In related news, the school board reorganized Jan. 2, electing William Fenimore, a Ship Bottom representative, and Bonnie Picaro, from Long Beach Township, to serve as president and vice president.

— Gina G. Scala

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