Ocean City library, senior center expansion progresses
Article published July 10, 2008
Atlantic City Press

OCEAN CITY - City Council is expected to award an $11.3 million contract today to expand the library and build a new senior centerto a design by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel..

The apparent low bidder of the seven firms was Arthur J. Ogren Inc., of Vineland, library trustee John Flood said.

If approved, the firm will serve as general contractor for the extensive project to expand the library, renovate the Aquatic and Fitness Center, build a new senior center and create a new mall-like foyer at the entrance.

The high bid was $12.5 million. Most of the bids came in at about $12 million, Flood said.

"There is a lot of competition now in the construction trades," Flood said. "It also shows there was a good, comprehensive set of plans. Sometimes when you don't have good plans, the prices are all over the place."

The Vineland construction firm on Wednesday declined to comment until it receives the contract.

Cape May County freeholders are contributing $3.5 million, of which $400,000 is a Small Cities grant from the state Department of Community Affairs.

The library board is paying for the lion's share of the project, albeit indirectly through property taxes collected by the city.

Not everyone agrees with the city's construction priorities.

Ocean City resident and commercial-property investor Michael Hinchman said the senior center at 33rd Street seems perfectly adequate, and he does not see the need for an expansive lobby with a coffee shop.

"It's just so over the top. I just don't think the town scrutinizes its money and can differentiate between want and need," he said.

Hinchman said there are other public buildings on the island that could serve the needs of senior citizens for meeting rooms or social gatherings.

"It's classic government waste," he said.

The county has been contemplating building a new center for several years, Administrator Stephen O'Connor said.

At 8,800 square feet, the new center will have more than double the available space of the center at 33rd Street and Bay Avenue. The center needs the room, he said.

"We have a growing senior population in the county," O'Connor said. "Even though the county population is going down overall, the senior population is growing."

Senior citizens are welcome at any of the county centers in Upper Township, North Wildwood or Lower Township.

Freeholders have not decided what the county will do with the building at 33rd Street when the new center is completed in 2010, O'Connor said. The county might sell the valuable bayfront land or put it to some other public use.

Then again, Ocean City might want it for the city's purposes, he said.

Flood said the project will complete the vision that city officials had for this public building decades ago.

The block-long building on the 1700 block of Simpson Avenue is also home to the historical museum and arts center. The foyer will give people a place to take advantage of wireless Internet access on their laptop computers.

"When we surveyed our users, almost every group said to make it more like a Border's," Flood said. "Have a coffee shop in there. That's what we tried to do."

The Aquatic and Fitness Center will move its daycare center closer to this public foyer to make it more convenient for parents.

The library will be closed occasionally a few days at a time during the two years of construction, Flood said.

"Once the senior center is there, it's going to be like the community living room," he said. "People of all ages can come and meet and interact. It will really be a community center."


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