The cost of repair materials to the Bennett Athletic Center could come in at $800,000, but the Toms River Regional School District is hoping FEMA would pay for 75 percent of the cost after an insurance deductible, leaving the school district with a $25,000 bill.
In a special board meeting Monday night, Toms River Regional school board heard from residents, Intermediate East staff and physical education teachers and coaches about whether to repair the flattened Bennett “Bubble,” which ripped as Hurricane Sandy’s high winds and power outages befell Toms River.
The structure, on the Intermediate East campus, has lain flat since the storm, in what district officials said has risked the coming indoor track season as well as overcrowding of the intermediate gym classes.
School Business Administrator Bill Doering estimates the cost to repair the Bubble could come in around $800,000. However, the district’s insurance deductible is $100,000.
Superintendent Frank Roselli said that after he, Doering and other officials met with FEMA on Nov. 21, he came away assured that the district would only be paying for 75 percent of that, or $25,000.
“We are responsible for 25,000 of that regardless of the cost,” said Board President Ed Gearity.
The total cost is currently estimated at $800,000, but could end up being much higher, Roselli said.
“The challenge of coming up with a definitive number is we won’t have one until we get out there,” the superintendent said.
Officials still have to see what is under the felled ceiling of the air structure, and test much of the equipment. This could add to the costs.
Roselli said no matter how high the price tag, the district’s price tag will remain the same: $25,000.
“Max expenditure to the board is $25,000, period,” Roselli said. “We work with the insurance company and FEMA to come to these assurances.”
The district education facilities manager has determined the structure was severely damage, and is no longer a safe environmental for students and staff.
Not having the Bubble for the last three weeks had a dramatic impact on the physical education program at the school, said several of the district athletic personnel who spoke at tonight’s meeting.
Assistant Superintendent Debra McKenna, who oversees the intermediate classes, said the Bubble is used during the day extensively for physical education.
“Six classes a period, every period, every day,” McKenna said. “Sixth, seventh and eighth grades have gym classes every day.”
McKenna was also principal at Intermediate East the year before the Bubble was built. She said the overcrowding resulted in students having gym classes in hallways and in the cafetorium.
“Phys. Ed. today isn’t what Phys. Ed. was when we were there,” McKenna said. “With the class guidelines and space we’ve been able to utilize there, it’s quite an improvement.”
Among the other supporters were current students and recent alumni, including some from out of the area who said they’ve rented the Bubble to have charity track meets.
Other residents had technical questions about the actual use of the site for school instruction versus rental and sports programs.
Intermediate East Principal Bryan Madigan voiced his “concern over the loss of the John Bennett Athletic Complex,” specifically for physical education instruction.
“One of the main reasons was the overcrowding of Intermediate East. With the new state standards and objectives in promoting a healthy lifestyle it becomes impossible to meet those objectives,” Madigan said. Currently 195 students are in each period of gym, with six teachers.
Several of those teachers came out tonight in support of the structure.
Joe Arminio, District Athletic Coordinator, said the Bubble is for instruction but also is a “training center for athletes.”
He said without the local indoor track site, schools would see students bussed two hours away for four-hour meets, ending the day home in bed past midnight.
“We’re going to force our athletic teams to put an hour long bus ride in… participate in 3-4 hour meet and take a 2 hour bus ride home. The athletes and coaches roll in around midnight. Parents get out of bed to pick up the students and drive home,” Arminio said. “We’re putting our students, staff and parents in a dangerous situation.”
Gregory Roth, a teacher at Intermediate East for 12 years, described how much students, particularly the sixth graders, enjoy using the structure for gym classes.
“It was a major concern for most of the students there. Seeing their expression, they were sad, missing out on something great,” Roth said. “Six graders are astonished at what our district can do for them.”
Board member Jamie Jubert said the original decision about eight years ago to have the structure was one of careful consideration.
“We had many discussions on athletic committee meetings. East was not one of the first options on where the Bubble would be placed,” Jubert said. “This isn’t something we had just thrown together. We had figures of what it would cost for bussing our children to other meets. There was a need, not just a space to put it.”
At a meeting last week, discussion ensued on what was possible and what was best to do, given options to repair, replace or build a completely different structure at the site.
Instead, after a meeting with insurance and FEMA officials, the district saw the lost cost and pushed for the repair of the structure.
Doering the original warrantee for the air structure was for the fabric, and was a 15 year warrantee. “We still have approximately 8 years lefts on that warrantee, any repairs would not be done without honoring that warrantee,” said the business administrator. In order to re-open, the district would also need a fire inspection.
The unanimous vote of the full board, many of whom gave an affirmative of “absolutely” instead of a “yes” to the question of repairs, was the only item on the night’s agenda.
The next step for the bubble is multiple quotes, with the contractor chosen in conjunction with the insurance company.
Doering said previously they hope to have the structure repaired “as soon as possible” to reinstate gym classes but to also honor December indoor track rental contracts.
"That is why an emergency contract resolution was approved tonight because a 60-90 day bid timeframe would deprive the kids of gym space for far too long, and we would lose the entire winter," said Doering.
Board member Loreen Torrone asked what can be done to modify the structure so the damage doesn’t happen again. Doering suggested modifications to the scoreboard could be a preventative measure.
The vote passed, with applause from the crowd.