LBI School Rehab Plans, Referendum Details Expected at Special Board Meeting

By Gina G. Scala | Aug 21, 2019

Ship Bottom — The wait is over.

The Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education will meet at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 28, to unveil a $7.6 million bond proposal for renovations to the LBI Grade School as well as a consolidation plan for moving all staff and students into the Ship Bottom building at a future date.

It’s expected the board will also vote on a resolution to send those plans to the state Department of Education in preparation of a Dec. 10 special election asking voters in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City to approve the expenditure to fix the 1950s-era school. That resolution was on the Aug. 20 agenda for a vote, but board member Colette Southwick successfully made a motion to have it withdrawn so “the public has a chance to have input.”

“I’m not saying it won’t happen,” Southwick said during the discussion at Tuesday’s school board meeting surrounding her motion. “I’m just saying to wait for it to happen.”

If the resolution is approved and a referendum scheduled, it could end a 10-year stalemate over what to do with the district’s two elementary schools. The school board has been at odds about that since the discussion about consolidating the two schools began.

In a previous plan, the LBI School was to be shuttered in favor of the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City and sold following an $18.4 million referendum in the fall of 2017. Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City rejected that proposal by a 2-to-1 tally.

A full majority vote of the nine-member board is needed to approve the resolution. Plans to rehab the LBI School, which were presented to the board at its Aug. 20 executive session, are based off an updated April 2015 structural review of the building.

Not since August 2018 have those plans been discussed in detail in public. At that time, Frank Little, the professional engineer retained by the board in March 2018, presented the updated report of the April 2015 work to the board using the same team of professionals for consistency. He revised the report in September 2018 after some questions from the board.

“We’ve been talking about this all summer,” Bonnie Picaro, board vice president, said during a discussion about moving the Aug. 28 special meeting until sometime in September. “I’m wondering why we didn’t do this sooner. It was supposed to be in June. Here we are in August. Time is running out. We have to take the vote (to send the proposal to the DOE).”

Southwick and board member Marilyn Wasilewski, along with a majority of the audience, were in favor of moving the meeting until after the new school year begins Sept. 5. The board did agree to change the start time to 7 p.m. after concerns that the initial 5:30 p.m. start time wasn’t convenient for members of the public. The board’s regular meetings all begin at 7 p.m.

Little, as well as the district’s bond counsel, are expected to be on hand for the Aug. 28 meeting to make the presentation and answer questions from the public. It was the only date both parties were available, board President William Fenimore said.

“You asked for it to be before school started,” Fenimore said to Southwick when she asked for the date to be changed to make it more convenient for board members and the public.

Past practice, according to Southwick, was for the board members to be asked for their availability prior to a special meeting being scheduled.

Picaro argued that moving the meeting until the third week of September, which is when the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is, would be cutting it too close in case any changes needed to be made to the scope of the project.

The deadline to notify the state education department is the end of September. The board must also submit a supplemental debt statement to the five Island communities whose children are educated by the elementary school district. A certified copy of the bond proposal must also be sent to the Ocean County clerk’s office to request the county clerk to submit the proposal to the voters at the special school district election and to seek the assistance of county officials and municipal clerks in conducting that election, according to the resolution the board withdrew from its agenda Aug. 20.

— Gina G. Scala

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