Long Beach Island School Board Could Formally Begin to Quash Referendum Project Next Week

Nov 15, 2017

When the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education meets next week, it will determine the fate of the district architect involved with developing plans for the recent referendum compellingly defeated by voters in three Island communities earlier this fall. The move comes as the school board charts a new course, and is one of the first steps necessary to make a clean break from the failed consolidation project.

At a special meeting Tuesday night, the school board directed its attorney to review the district’s contract with the architect to determine what needs to be done to move on from the referendum, and whether there is a penalty associated with walking away from the project. Simultaneously, the board must also begin the process of letting the state Department of Education know it is abandoning the $18.4 million referendum that focused on expanding and renovating the Ethel A. Jacobsen School so it could consolidate nearly 230 students into the school beginning next year.

Once those steps are taken, the board will begin to look for an independent structural engineer to provide a thorough assessment of the condition of the LBI Grade School.

“A major question is the condition of the LBI Grade School,” board member Marilyn Wasilewski said, noting the cost of fixing the grade school could determine whether the district moves ahead with plans to maintain two schools, or consolidate.

The discussion was prompted by an ad-hoc meeting with members of the school board and local officials last month. Last night’s meeting was the first time the board met as a whole to discuss recommendations, and comments from municipal officials.

“The feeling in the meeting was that in no way in God’s green earth is fixing both schools going to cost $18.4 million,” said board President James Donahower, who, along with board members Allyn Kain, Bonnie Picaro and Colette Southwick, district Superintendent Peter Kopack and Business Administrator Megan Gally, met with mayors Francis Hodgson, Surf City; William Huelsenbeck, Ship Bottom; Joseph Mancini, Long Beach Township; Jonathan Oldham, Harvey Cedars as well as Township Commissioner Joseph Lattanzi, Surf City Councilman William Hodgson and Barnegat Light Councilman Scott Sharpless.

At the Oct. 30 meeting, municipal officials told the ad-hoc committee they do not approve of the board selling off its assets. Also, they do not support the Choice student program, nor do they like or trust the board attorney and architect, according to the meeting minutes read into record last night by Donahower. They also told the committee the district attorney and architect fees are too costly and there is no transparency at the school board level, culminating in a deep distrust of the board.

Municipal officials said they are in favor of the best facilities possible for the children of Long Beach Island, and strongly urged the board to reassess the educational needs of the students and convey the costs to them for review and endorsement.

“They will support funding to pay for essentials via referendum or budget increases,” according to the Oct. 30 meeting minutes. “There is no support for a one-school solution at this time.”

Instead, municipal officials recommend the immediate and complete structural repairs of the LBI Grade School, the reassessment of architectural and structural needs of both schools, and the conveying of costs for them to review and endorse.

Open or Shut ...

That’s the Question

Whether the LBI Grade School remains open past the end of the current school year is unknown, despite the board’s decision last month to scrap its goal of planning for the transition of school students and staff to the Ethel A. Jacobsen School next September.

“If you need a referendum to rectify the LBI Elementary School, you are not going to open the LBI Elementary School in September,” the board attorney said in response to board member Picaro’s question about a timeframe at the public portion of the board’s Oct. 30 special meeting. “I just want you to know that.”

When Picaro asked why, he said, “You don’t have enough time. You’re not even close to having enough time.”

If the board can raise the money without going to referendum, according to the board attorney, the LBI Grade School could remain open.

The LBI School, built in the late 1960s with a structural steel roof framing that consists of open web steel joists, steel beams supporting the metal roof deck and steel columns, underwent a shoring-up project in 2015. The $287,000 project was based on plans prepared by Harrison-Hamnett, PC of Pennington and recommended in a report compiled by Frank Little, the engineer for all the Island municipalities, following a study of the two schools. That report estimated these temporary repairs at $75,000. Shore Connection, though, as the board pointed out at the time, was the only bidder through two bid periods.

The total cost to completely replace the concrete and I-beams under the school – which the report said should be done within two years – was estimated to cost more than $1 million. Nowhere in an April 1, 2015, report from Harrison-Hamnett to Little does it offer an expiration date for the LBI Grade School. Representatives of the Pennington-based firm did not respond to inquiries as of press time.

— Gina G. Scala


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