By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
City Council on Thursday awarded a total of $6.8 million in construction contracts for dozens of road maintenance projects and also introduced a bond ordinance to help pay for beach replenishment and the expansion of the Ocean City Sports & Civic Center.
The road projects will largely consist of milling and paving work, sidewalk and gutter improvements and drainage upgrades.
They will be concentrated in the 12th Street neighborhood, in the city’s midtown section from 25th to 34th streets and in the south end of town from 48th to 54th streets. Streets in the surrounding blocks in each of those areas will be improved.
In a separate vote, Council introduced a $6.5 million bond ordinance to finance two big-ticket projects, beach replacement and the expansion of the aging Sports & Civic Center.
The city plans to spend $3 million to give the now-drab Sports & Civic Center a facelift. New locker rooms and bathrooms will be built. An overhang will be added to the entryway to protect people from the rain and also to spruce up the building.
Noting the need for the building’s overhaul, Councilman Keith Hartzell said the Sports & Civic Center is a facility that screams out “come fix me up.”
Despite its utilitarian appearance, the building plays an important role in the city’s sports scene and as the venue for special events, including festivities for the family-friendly First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.
Hoping to turn it into a bigger, more functional facility, the city will expand and renovate it. Frank Donato, the city’s chief financial officer, explained that the expansion project should lead to more college sports teams using the building and the adjacent Carey Stadium high school athletic complex.
The sports complex is already rented by some college athletic programs for their workouts. Villanova University’s football team, for instance, practices at the stadium each year.
Meanwhile, the bond ordinance also includes $3 million to help the city pay for its share of a beach replenishment project expected to get underway this fall and be completed in time for the 2020 summer tourism season.
Ocean City, Sea Isle City and Strathmere are part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project that will deposit a total of 2.4 million cubic yards of fresh sand along the eroded shoreline of all three towns.
A $32.5 million contract been awarded for the project. However, there are options built into the contract that could push the cost up to $41.3 million if surveys of the storm-damaged beaches show that even more sand is needed for replenishment.
According to initial figures, Ocean City will receive 800,000 cubic yards of new sand to replenish the beaches in the north end of town from Seaview Road to 13th Street. Another 455,000 cubic yards of sand will help restore the beaches in the southern end from 49th to 59th streets.
Ocean City and other beach towns along the Jersey Shore were hammered by a lingering coastal storm that brought strong winds and a series of destructive high tides from Oct. 9 to the morning of Oct. 12.
Donato told the Council members that the city wants to piggyback on the Army Corps of Engineers’ beach replenishment project to install a large geotube that would help protect the shoreline between Fourth and Fifth streets.
The geotube, essentially an elongated synthetic “sock” filled with sand, would be used to reinforce the dunes at Fourth and Fifth streets, an area that is particularly vulnerable to beach erosion, Donato noted. It would be around two blocks long.
The city earlier installed a geotube to help protect the beachfront at Waverly Boulevard and was pleased with the results. The hope is that a new geotube at Fourth and Fifth streets would also be a success.
Also Thursday, Council introduced a series of ordinances to help the city meet its state-mandated “fair share” of affordable housing. The ordinances stem from a 2018 court settlement in which Ocean City agreed to provide affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.
Most notably, one of the ordinances includes $900,000 in funding for the city to buy a building from the county that could be used as a site for affordable homes. The building, at 3300-3400 Bay Avenue, formerly served as an American Legion hall.
Plans are still being discussed for the property, but it will most likely be used as a site for affordable housing and to support the city’s recreation programs, city officials said.
It has not yet been decided whether the former American Legion building will be part of those plans or whether it would be demolished to make room for new development, City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson.
Earlier this year, McCrosson explained that Ocean City has carefully crafted its affordable housing plan in a way that will allow new construction to blend in with the rest of the neighborhoods without “jamming up” the town with high-density projects.
The city dramatically reduced its affordable housing obligation with a court-approved agreement last year that would require 93 units, instead of 1,687, for low-income families, seniors and the disabled.
The city is financing affordable housing projects in partnership with the Ocean City Housing Authority. There are plans to build a new 32-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens next to the authority’s Bayview Manor site at Sixth Street and West Avenue.
Separately, a shared-services agreement with the city will also allow the authority to move forward with the rehabilitation of 61 units of affordable housing at Bayview Manor.