Ship Bottom Open to Buying Back Land Deeded Five Decades Ago
Surf City — Whether an offer from Surf City officials to purchase the Ethel A. Jacobsen Elementary School for $3 million from the local school board goes anywhere is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. What is known, though, is that two Island municipalities have sent to letters to Surf City requesting all appropriate documents in which the governing body discussed the purchase of the 1960s-era school be made available to them.
Simultaneously, the mayor of Ship Bottom sent his own letter to the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education expressing interest in possibly buying the 2.5 acres of land in its town to preserve open space.
All of this happened within the first 48 to 72 hours following the announcement of the $3 million offer by school board President William Fenimore, which came just four weeks prior to an impending and contentious $7.68 million referendum in Barnegat Light, Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City. If approved, the referendum would fund renovations to the LBI Grade School in Ship Bottom.
“(They’re) making a big deal over nothing,” Surf City Mayor Francis Hodgson said last week after the borough’s offer to the school board came to light and after the borough received a letter from Brady and Kuntz, legal counsel for the borough of Barnegat Light, requesting to be notified of any future meeting “at which this matter is to be discussed, as we wish to appear and voice the borough’s (Barnegat Light) most vehement objection to this conveyance.”
Hiering, Gannon and McKenna, the legal firm representing the borough of Harvey Cedars, sent a similarly worded letter to Surf City on Nov. 22.
“The governing body is very concerned since the process involved with this potential $3 million purchase seems to have been unknown by some of the members of the Long Beach Island Consolidated School District and member municipalities making up the school district,” the letter from William T. Hiering Jr. states. “It is also the borough’s understanding that due to the recent school board election there may be a shift in policy after Jan. 1, 2020.”
Late last week, Hodgson explained all Surf City officials did was “add to the 2014 offer (the late Leonard T. Connors Jr., then Surf City mayor, offered the district $2.5 million for the site). We never rescinded our offer. In fact, we sent a reminder in 2016. They never responded to it.”
In the Jan. 8, 2016 letter from Hodgson to district officials, he reaffirmed the offer to purchase the 2.9-acre portion of the E.J. School property located in Surf City in an amount not to exceed $2.52 million “to assist the district with the improvements necessary to the LBI School, in exchange for the re-conveyance of the Ethel Jacobsen School site to the borough.”
That letter also sought to clarify the $2.5 million funds as “separate from and in addition to the amount specified in the recorded deed for said property in the event of the re-conveyance to the borough.”
Surf City officials deeded 2.9 acres of borough land to the district for an elementary school in June 1962 with the stipulation that should a future board decide the property would no longer be used for educational purposes the borough would have the option to buy it back for a sum equal to the sale price paid to the borough by the board ($35,000) plus 4 percent interest from the date of the deed.
“As stated in our previous communications to the board, the borough believes that this offer will enhance the district’s ability to pursue the goals identified in the consultant’s report of achieving greater effectiveness in providing a better educational facility at the least cost to the taxpayers of the constituent municipalities comprising the district, especially considering the continuing declining enrollment and funds already spent on the LBI School building as a result of Superstorm Sandy,” Hodgson’s January 2016 letter stated.
Roughly at the same time of Surf City’s initial offer, Ship Bottom officials expressed an interest in purchasing the LBI School site. At the time, it was being considered partly for municipal use and partly open space because officials there didn’t want to see the property turned into more housing.
“Nothing official,” Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck said late last week when asked if anyone from the board reached out to him about whether the borough would be interested in buying back the 2.5 acres of land it deeded to the district more than five decades ago. “I sent a letter saying if anyone wanted to talk, we’re open for discussion.”
Huelsenbeck’s interest in the Ship Bottom land that’s part of the E.J. School property is “to add to open space. We don’t have enough of it (open space).”
Hodgson said nearly the same thing last week, too.
“We need recreation. Why wouldn’t we offer to buy it (the E.J. School),” he said. “It helps everyone out. If they’re (the board) going to get rid of one school and the school is going to come back to Surf City anyway …”
— Gina G. Scala