(UPDATED May 16, 2020)-- Regarding the cost to demolish the Highland Park School and the plans for the property Terri Weeks, Gloucester High School Business Administrator said, "The Highland Park demolition project bid was awarded to the Ambient Group in the amount of $254,400. The district is in discussion with regards to the use of the property after the demolition project is complete. "
William E. Cleary Sr. | CNBNews
(Gloucester City, NJ)(May 8, 2020)--Earlier this week CNBNews spoke with Gloucester City Mayor Dan Spencer regarding a number of topics such as the demolition of two empty neighborhood schools; the status of the redevelopment plan for Broadway, and what was happening with the 2020-21 city budget.
Spencer said the Brown Street School, and the Highland Park School, will be demolished in the near future.
"Both schools will be torn down. The insides of those buildings need a lot of work to bring them up to code such as new heating/AC systems, and electrical and plumbing work.
The Brown Street School, which housed K-3 grades for decades was closed in the 90's when the Cold Springs School was opened and the City was named an ABBOTT district. Shortly thereafter the property was given to the local PAL. But, they haven't been active for several years. Spencer said originally there was talk to put up a pre-fab building there and call it the PAL Community Center but because of COVID-19, that idea is on hold. (photo credit CNBNews)
"The Brown Street School was donated to the Police Athletic League (PAL) decades ago, but for the past several years the PAL became inactive and stopped using it," he said. We
The PAL sign at the top of the Brown Street School over the entrance (CNBNews photo)
asked the local The PBA (Police Benevolent Association)to remove whatever belonged to them along with the weight lifting equipment from the building. And, we permitted them to store it in the city-owned Ragen building at the foot of Monmouth Street. Presently some police officers are working out in the building using the weight lifting equipment. The building is also used by the Fire Department to store a fire engine and the NorthWind Schooner organization who keep their equipment for the schooner there."
"We had Bill Ackley of the Construction Code Office to look at the inside of the Brown Street school. He said the building wasn't structurally sound and was not worth putting a lot of money into it for the renovations. That we would be better off to tear it down and start from scratch. The school district is demolishing the Highland Park School for the same reasons," said the mayor.
Asked about the plans for those properties once the buildings are removed Spencer said, "I don't know what the school district plans on doing with that ground. As for the city, we are looking to put up a pre-fab building as a new PAL community center for the kids to use. That is the plans now but this COVID-19 virus has done so much damage to our future projects and our budget. For now many of our enhancements for our city are in limbo."
The Highland Park School, Highland Blvd. and Park Ave. (CNBNews photo)
According to a former School Board member, local and state taxpayers spent $5 million to renovate that building so it could be used for an Alternative school to house 73 students. It was also used for the Adult Education program. But years later those students were moved into the high school building to show the state that the district high school was overcrowded and needed a new middle school, said the Board member who didn't want to be identified. We contacted the School Supt. Dennis Vespe and Business Administrator Teri Weeks for the cost to demolish the HP school. A full dumpster is sitting on the side of the building. We also wanted to ask about the former School Board member's statement. As of today, we are still waiting for their response.
When questioned about this year's 2020-21 budget the mayor said a work session involving the council and department heads is going to be held this week followed by a
The sign reads The home of The Highland Park School for Success and The Gloucester City Adult School (CNBNews photo)
finance committee meeting. "I'll be able to tell you more once those meetings conclude. The mayor said he was hopeful Governor Murphy would be successful in obtaining federal funds to help communities like Gloucester City. "That idea has support from both sides of the aisle. The Governor's Association made up of all 50 governors is pressuring Congress and the President for money for the states and local governments."
Gloucester City's 2018 budget totaled $22,584,000 or $745,029 more than the 2017 budget which was $21,838,971. The total cost for personnel (109 full-time and 77 part-time amounted to $12,947, 742. Or approximately 58 percent of the total budget.
A further breakdown reveals the costs of health benefits for full-time employees, retirees and their spouses cost $3,461,528 (source 2018 Friendly budget)
According to John Barrett, chief financial offer for the city, the 2019 budget was $21, 337, 471. The local purpose tax was $1.083 per $100 of assessed valuation.
As for what was happening with the Broadway Redevelopment Zone plans he said that has been put on hold. He said the city wanted to meet with the public before proceeding with that idea but because of the pandemic that is pending. "No developer has been named. Likewise, the ME Costello school development plan has been scratched."
Questioned about Freedom Pier and the restaurant idea he said, "We are in talks with another developer who is looking at the pier as well as the ground near the entrance to that property. At one time that was a softball field. For decades we were trying to get someone to build a restaurant and a marine there. Maybe the time has come to scrap that idea and build residential properties instead. "
The mayor agreed that our country's future looks bleak because of the trillions of dollars that have been spent to supplement the taxpayers and businesses during this pandemic. This month, U.S. government debt surpassed a record of $25 TRILLION. "Our grandchildren and their grandchildren will be paying this debt off for decades to come. It is scary. But I am not letting any of this get me down. I'll keep doing my best to move our town forward. I am going to keep banging on the doors until I find a developer to help turn our city around. A restaurant on the pier might not be the right idea. Building residential units there might be a better proposal. "
Gloucester City is not the only community in New Jersey having financial problems. Chris Vergano, mayor of Wayne, said in an interview with insidernj.com, “We don’t know how people are going to pay their taxes if they aren’t working,” the Republican mayor said. "But it’s not only taxes. All revenues are down, including construction permit fees, traffic ticket revenue given the fact fewer people are driving and even the coins put in parking meters."
“Before the outbreak, we were a thriving community,” said Raymond Giacobbe, the mayor of Rahway.
But not anymore, he admitted.
And then there’s garbage. While it’s sometimes easy to ignore, more people staying home means families are throwing out more trash John Ducey, the mayor of Brick, said town dumping fees are up by 25 percent since the pandemic began.
In various ways, each mayor spoke about declining revenue and the possible need to layoff, or at least furlough, workers.
Documents below from 2018 Friendly Budget for Gloucester City
The total number of city employees is 186. The total personnel cost is almost $13 million dollars
HEALTH benefits costs for employees, their spouses and retirees in 2018 was $3,461,529 or $209,827 more than the previous year's amount of $3,251,702