By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Completion of the Ocean City Housing Authority’s nearly $7 million affordable housing project for senior citizens may be delayed by about a month because of “one hiccup” blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The company that will install the elevators in the three-story building has indicated that the pandemic is slowing down production at its factory and that could cause a delay with its work in Ocean City, the housing authority reported at its monthly board meeting Tuesday.
“The one hiccup that we’ve run across, which is not surprising, is the elevator company,” said board member Scott Halliday, who serves as vice chairman of the housing authority and heads its redevelopment committee.
Schindler Elevator Corp. was originally supposed to begin working at the site in late February or early March, but now says it may not start until late April due to COVID-related delays, Halliday said.
The authority has been targeting May 1 as the $6.9 million project’s completion date, but a delay with the elevator work may push it back to early June, Halliday said. However, the authority has not yet given up on having it finished by May, he pointed out.
“We’re still pushing for the May completion date. We’re trying to tighten that up as much as possible,” he told the board members during a Zoom meeting.
Called Speitel Commons, the 32-unit project is being built next to the authority’s Bayview Manor housing complex at Sixth Street and West Avenue. The building is named in honor of the late Edmond C. Speitel Sr., a housing authority commissioner who helped to oversee the project from the conceptual phase.
Senior citizens who now live in the authority’s flood-prone Pecks Beach Village housing complex on Fourth Street will be moved over to the Speitel Commons building when it is completed.
While updating the board on the progress of the project, Halliday said all other construction work is rolling along smoothly under the supervision of the general contractor, Gary F. Gardner Inc. of Medford, N.J.
“The contractor is doing a very good job staying on schedule,” he said.
He added, “All other components of the project are moving along nicely.”
So far, the housing authority and the contractors have worked together to reduce the overall cost of the project by nearly $62,000.
Not wanting to fall behind, the authority plans to have its team of consultants or the general contractor negotiate with the Schindler elevator company to try to avoid any delays.
“We’ve given our team encouragement to go forward with negotiations with them as hard as possible or to get the contractor to negotiate as hard as possible,” Halliday said.
In his full-time profession, Halliday is a home builder and general contractor, giving him expertise in the construction industry.
Halliday stressed that it will be important to stay on top of the elevator company to avoid construction delays if possible.
“They’re blaming COVID. I just think we need to stay on them to perform,” Halliday said in an interview after the board meeting.
City Council President Bob Barr, who serves as the housing authority’s chairman, said that he has “some” concerns about the project being slightly delayed.
“But hopefully we can work with them on that,” Barr said of negotiations with Schindler to try to keep the elevator work on schedule.
The senior citizens portion of Pecks Beach Village, located on the north side of Fourth Street, will be torn down when Speitel Commons is finished. The housing authority has set aside $200,000 for demolition work on the flood-prone site.
Pecks Beach Village also includes affordable housing for low-income families. The 40 family units are located on the south side of Fourth Street. The family units will stay for the time being, although there are longer-range plans to replace them with new housing construction.
In 2019, City Council approved a $6.6 million bond ordinance to build or rehabilitate affordable housing sites for senior citizens and low-income families. The projects will help Ocean City meet its state-mandated obligation to provide its “fair share” of affordable housing as part of a court settlement in 2018.
The city is expected to contribute more than $2 million toward the Speitel Commons project, while the New Jersey Housing Mortgage and Finance Agency is providing $4.5 million in funding.
The Ocean City Housing Authority provides affordable housing for senior citizens, families and the disabled. Ocean City residents, the elderly and people with disabilities are given preference for the authority’s housing.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved a change in the authority’s occupancy and admissions policies that will add military veterans to the group of people given preference on the waiting list for housing.
“It just gives them an extra leg up on the waiting list,” said Jacqueline Jones, the authority’s executive director.
However, there are currently no openings on the waiting list, so the authority is not accepting applications from veterans at this time, Barr said. The authority anticipates that there will be openings later in the year, he added.
Also at the meeting, the board approved a $10,000 bonus to Jones and her staff to recognize their work in overseeing the authority’s development projects as well as the agency’s financial turnaround.
The agency was reeling from shaky finances after an embezzlement scandal in 2017 involving its former executive director. After Jones took over as the new executive director, the authority became debt free and profitable. Jones and her staff also put the authority in position to launch the Speitel Commons project.
The $10,000 bonus calls for Jones to receive $5,000 and her staff $5,000. Barr and Halliday, as the senior members of the board, recommended the bonus.
“This is kudos to Jackie and her team. We thank them for all they do,” Barr said.
Halliday said the bonus acknowledges the “extraordinary work” Jones and her staff have done on the authority’s development projects.
On behalf of her staff, Jones thanked the board members and expressed her appreciation for the bonus.