$5 Million to Rehab, 40 Percent State Aid Available
In the media center of the LBI Grade School almost two months after it was expected to close permanently, the Long Beach Island Consolidated Board of Education heard a report detailing what work needs to be done to shore up the school building, and at what cost.
In the simplest of terms, it will cost the district roughly $5 million to fix the school, which was on the chopping block just last year because it was considered by many to be unsafe. However, engineer Frank Little of Owen, Little and Associates of Beachwood said the district is eligible for 40 percent state aid of the total cost, so approximately $2 million, from the state Department of Education for the rehabilitation project. State aid for new construction is configured differently, he said, and the cost per square-footage isn’t comparable to real-world costs.
Little, who compiled a 2015 structural review report of the school, headed an update of that report using the same team of professionals for consistency, he told the board during its Aug. 21 meeting.
During the course of his report, Little said the grade school isn’t in as rough a shape as officials and the public once believed.
“All of the damage is in the front wings,” he said. “It moved, but it’s not in danger of collapse. I am pretty confident we can rehab the school and keep it.”
One of the big-ticket items is repairing the beams under the front of the building, Little said. Of the hundreds of beams underneath the school, 14 need to be repaired. Had the district continued with a repair project from 2002, the point would be moot, he said.
“We’re not seeing any failures from the previous work,” he said, adding that means the method of repairing the beams worked. “It’s too bad you didn’t continue the project 15 years ago.”
While there is some water under the school, he said, “there is no water on the floor of the school.” That would indicate a larger problem.
Electrical and mechanical also make up a good portion of the project, which would see the heating system throughout the school replaced with dual heating and air conditioning units to be vented outside. Whether the school would need more power supplied to it due to updated equipment and usage isn’t completely known, but the 10 percent contingency of the roughly $4.2 million for the overall project should cover that cost, according to Little.
Another area in which Little is expected to provide additional information is for 11 restrooms, which board Vice President Colette Southwick questioned as the cost estimate being too low.
She also asked about the architect’s qualifications for handling a school rehab project. Little assured the board the architect he’d use if they choose to go through with rehabbing the elementary school has the necessary experience and has served as a consultant on construction projects for the state education agency.
Up until last fall, it was generally believed the grade school was in poor condition and would be closed to student and staffs beginning with the upcoming school year. That, in part, was a driving force behind an $18.4 million expansion and rehabilitation referendum for the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in neighboring Surf City. Voters in Long Beach Township, Ship Bottom and Surf City rejected the proposal out of hand, and the district has spent the intervening 11 months determining its next step.
To that end, Little was retained earlier this year to begin putting together an updated proposal to the April 2015 report he coordinated for the structural view of the district’s two elementary schools. The work was performed by Harrison-Hamnett PC of Pennington. From that report, the LBI School, built 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 prior to the beginning of the 2015-16 school year.
“If we started tomorrow (Aug. 22),” Little said in response to a question from board President James Donahower about how long the project would take once it began, “bidding would be after the first of the year.”
Once everything is ready to go, it would take approximately eight months, including summer months, to get the work done, he said. Fixing the pilings would be performed during the school year and would likely require areas of the school to be cordoned off during the repair work, according to Little.
When asked to compare the LBI School to the EJ School, Little told the board members they were not comparing apples to apples. There’s definitely more room at the LBI School, he added.
After Little’s presentation, Ship Bottom resident Nancy Henderson asked the board whether the upgraded LBI School would be capable of handling the district’s entire student body and staff, essentially using that school as was previously intended for the EJ School.
“We’ve gone through multiple scenarios,” said Superintendent Peter Kopack, who noted the district has to take into consideration such things as changing classes for fifth- and sixth-graders. “If we make adjustments, then yes, it would.”
The board didn’t indicate when it would make a decision of whether or not to move ahead with rehabbing the grade school. The next school board meeting is slated for 7 p.m.,Tuesday, Sept. 18, just eight days before the year anniversary of the $18.4 million referendum being voted down, in the media center of the LBI School, 20th Street and Central Avenue in Ship Bottom.
— Gina G. Scala