Ship Bottom Council Rejects LBI School Referendum

May 31, 2017
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill LBI School, located on Central Avenue in Ship Bottom.

Citing unsound fiscal practices and the excessive scope of the project not in the best interest of district pupils and taxpayers, the Ship Bottom Borough Council formally opposed plans for the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School and a referendum proposed by the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District, slated to go before voters in September.

“We’re not against the referendum (per se) … it gives people a voice,” Mayor William Huelsenbeck said, “but the project doesn’t make sense. It started out as a $9 million improvement.”

The school board is seeking voter approval for an $18.4 million project that includes selling off the LBI School, located on Central Avenue in Ship Bottom, and renovating the Ethel Jacobsen School in neighboring Surf City. Elementary-age children from all over the Island except Beach Haven attend the two schools.

Huelsenbeck said the board has failed to address concerns voiced by council throughout the process.

“We get no response,” he said. “If we did that up here, we’d be in handcuffs. It’s amazing what they get away with.”

The $18.4 million price tag does not include the cost of required storage, nor does it include the cost of removing the state tidelands claims, which borough officials estimate at roughly $2 to $3 million, or inspections and zoning approvals costs, according to the council resolution unanimously approved at the May 23 meeting.

Should the board succeed in selling the LBI School for approximately $8 million, the board would still be required to repay $10.4 million in bonds authorized by the referendum, the council resolution states. It continues, “and ultimately will have spent $18.4 million on a school with potentially two different elevations, no new storage space, and that does not provide a material improvement over a renovated LBI School or a more limited and efficient renovation of the Ethel Jacobsen School, as the LAN Associates report noted that the renovation would likely cost $9.4 million in 2011 dollars and the proposed $18.4 million is approximately double that amount.”

Ship Bottom, which does not want to see the LBI School property become a housing development, offered to purchase the school and property with the intention of keeping the building and open space. Its offer was shot down earlier this year after Surf City officials rejected a resolution – mandated by the school board – supporting the sale. All five Island towns were required to approve resolutions in support. If Ship Bottom’s offer of $4 million to the purchase the school had been approved, taxpayers would have had to pick up the remaining financial responsibility.

“There are a lot of problems with the plan,” Barbara Bishop told the Ship Bottom Borough Council.

Councilman Tom Tallon agreed, calling the referendum “ridiculous.”

For years, the school board has intended to sell the LBI School to fund expansion at the E.J. School. The LBI School was listed for $9.5 million in 2011. The price was later reduced.

“We feel the LBI School is the school of choice,” Councilman Robert Butkus said, noting that school underwent a $2 million face-lift following Superstorm Sandy.

— Gina G. Scala


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