Sunday, October 1, 2023

Close Cape May Elementary, Locate City Hall, Convention Center There?

By Jack Fichter

CAPE MAY —  The city’s Revitalization Committee may recommend to city council that a new convention hall be built not at its current location on the beachfront, but next to Cape May Elementary School on Lafayette Street.
Part of that proposal would include closing the school, sending the students to West Cape May Elementary School, and converting Cape May Elementary School into a new city hall and rec-reation complex.
Both schools are suffering from declining enrollment.
Revitalization Committee member Tom Carroll presented a report at a Feb. 17 meeting of the Taxpayers Association of Cape May. This was the public’s first glimpse of revitalization com-mittee deliberations, which have been held in closed sessions.
Carroll said there was absolutely no parking at convention hall’s current location.
Taxpayers Association Vice President Richard Juliano, also a member of the revitalization committee, first suggested use of the school site.
Carroll said the committee was seriously considering recommending that option to city coun-cil.
“As you all know, Cape May Elementary School and West Cape May Elementary School are very, very down in numbers,” he said. “Even if our communities do not care to unite the schools, sooner or later the state is going to say ‘you’ve got to consider this if you want funding for your programs.'”
Carroll said Cape Elementary School would be converted into city hall and a community cen-ter while the school’s playground would be used for a new convention hall and parking lot.
He said such a move would “free up” the current city hall housed in the former Cape May High School and open up the current convention hall site to retail space. Carroll said the com-mittee was seeking feedback from the community on.
He said he expected the proposal would generate letters to the editor and Spout Offs.
Carroll said city council could make the final decision or submit it to a voter referendum.
Taxpayers Association board member Robert Steenrod said he thought regionalization of the two elementary schools was two to three years in the future, perhaps not soon enough to meet the time frame for building a new convention hall. 
Taxpayers Association board member Joe Steady said he was not in favor of closing Cape May Elementary School. He said while the property was perfect for a new convention hall and city hall, “If you have your value system out in front, you might say, ‘will the children be better off with want we are going to present here?'”
Juliano said combining the two elementary schools was not an original thought on his part, it’s been heard in conversations but kept “under the table.” He told the board he was not sure if West Cape May Elementary School was large enough to house its own student population (cur-rently 57 children) plus children from Cape May Elementary, which currently has 146 students.
Steenrod said he did not think West Cape May Elementary School could hold 200 students. At board of education meeting earlier in the month, West Cape May School Board President Irene Hober said the highest population the school ever housed was 100 students.
Taxpayers Association board member Pete Iurato noted West Cape May Elementary School did not have a swimming pool and he was unsure if it had a kitchen.
Juliano suggested a member of the board take a tour of the school.
 Carroll said the revitalization committee was leaning toward recommending a parking garage in which parking spaces could be sold.
“There is an awful lot of currently existing building space in the downtown area that can’t be redeveloped because they have absolutely no parking,” said Carroll.
He cited apartments located over stores in the Washington Street Mall as an example.
Carroll said the committee hoped mall reconstruction would begin in October with convention hall construction following in one year.
Juliano said reconstruction of the mall benefits those who own stores and restaurants at that location and the cost should not entirely fall on the backs of taxpayers. He said mall merchant and owners of building on the mall ” have to step up and say ‘we will be a part of this.'”
Juliano suggested the mall become a special improvement district and grants be sought.
Contact Fichter at (609) 886-8600, ext. 30, or

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