Long Beach Island School Board Retains Referendum Architect

Jan 10, 2018

In a surprising move, the LBI Consolidated Board of Education last month approved the embattled architectural firm DiCara Rubino Architects to act as the go-between in finding a structural engineer to provide a full assessment of the LBI Grade School as the district attempts to move past the resounding failure of an $18.4 million referendum last fall.

The move comes after municipal officials told the full school board it doesn’t like or trust the architect, or the board attorney. An ad-hoc committee of the school board, which consists of board President James Donahower, board Vice President Colette Southwick and Bonnie Picaro, have met with elected officials twice to rebuild the broken relationship between district and community officials. Former board member Allyn Kain, who is running to keep her seat as the Surf City representative against John McMenamin in a special runoff election later this month, also served on the ad-hoc committee. At the end of election night, McMenamin was ahead by one vote over incumbent Kain – 190 to 189 – in the race to fill the seat. However, when the Ocean County Board of Election met to certify the results the following week, it reviewed all provisional ballots and concluded the race actually ended in a tie, at 192 votes per candidate.

“Architects handle the facade of a building,” Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson said during the Dec. 19 public comment portion of the school board meeting. “Engineers handle structural.”

But the board attorney said using the architect is a “a logical jumping off point. We don’t know what he is going to say. At the end, we’ll have a sense of what is needed from a structural and mechanical perspective.”

“It definitely seems like they are not looking for someone who is unbiased,” Ship Bottom resident Steve Moser commented.

Elected officials wanted the district to use Frank Little as a structural engineer to determine the immediate and thorough assessment of the LBI Grade School, which some board members claim is unsafe for continued operation. Little, borough engineer in most, if not all, of the Island communities, coordinated a structural review, performed by Harrison-Hamnett PC of Pennington in 2015, of both the LBI Grade School and the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School.

In September, voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City overwhelmingly defeated a 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.

The board still has a contract with DiCara Rubino, and hasn’t moved to formally vacate the defeated referendum with the state Department of Education. At a special meeting nearly two months ago, 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 would be a penalty associated with walking away from the project. There’s been no discussion, at least publicly, since the Nov. 14 meeting.

DiCara Rubino Architects was paid $486,062.46, of which $221,459.98 was tied to the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School, according to a review of the bills submitted to the district as of December 2016. Only the line items pertaining to the referendum were calculated and totaled. They were charged with designing the eight-classroom addition at the E.J. School, which included a science, technology, engineering and math lab as well as an art room, gym and student services office.

This work, for a total of $14.6 million, was rejected by voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City Sept. 26. Voters also discarded a second question, for a total of $3.6 million, that focused on essential renovations to the E.J. School, including updating the heating, ventilation and cooling systems; replacing aging ceilings and electrical panels; and upgrading lighting for energy efficiency. The referendum passed in Barnegat Light and Harvey Cedars.

Out of 6,157 registered voters in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City, only 1,717 went to polls for the special election. Of that number, 1,127 voted against question one while 579 voted in favor. Question two failed by a vote of 1,100 against and just 550 in favor, according to the Ocean County Clerk’s live election results website, which was updated Oct. 4.

Gina G. Scala


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