The project to renovate the former Holy Family Academy as a new Head Start location and new headquarters for the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation (BEOF) is finally moving forward. However, the BEOF still needs additional funds to complete the project.
The Catholic high school closed in 2013 due to declining enrollment and financial issues and has been vacant ever since. In 2017, the city purchased the buildings for $2.5 million with the intention of consolidating the BEOF from its current multiple properties to the convent. The three buildings that the BEOF currently operates out of will be sold to cover the cost of the purchase. The new location of the Head Start program will be in the former school itself.
BEOF Director Samantha Howard described the current state of the project to the Bayonne Community News following the award of a $2.1 million contract for the first round of necessary renovations to the school before the Head Start program can move in.
Howard said that the project is primarily funded by a $1.5 million federal grant from Head Start.
“They have infrastructure improvement funding that can be had,” she said. “And it’s a long and tedious process.”
According to Howard, the BEOF had applied for the grant prior to the pandemic.
“When we applied for this, this was very early on, shortly after we acquired the building. It took them a while to award us the dollar amount,” she said. “This was pre-COVID and there’s a process that I had to go through for them to award it. We had to get the value of the building. We had to give them a copy of the architect plans, what we were expecting to do, for them to factor into the final approval. Again, all pre-COVID.”
Howard said that by time they received the grant, COVID-19 had taken its toll on the project.
“We got the money during the COVID-19 shut down,” she said. “At that point, construction was at a standstill, as was everything else. So when we finally started to get going on this, inflation basically takes over.”
The project faced delays due to issues with COVID-19 as well as grant funding, but the main issue was for the bids for the renovations to the school building.
“The bids were coming in more than the cost of the building,” she said. “It was only estimated at $4.5 million and all of the bids were coming in at $6 million. Due to inflation, the renovations were costing more than what the building was actually worth. That’s why we kept having to reject those bids.”
Following the repeated rejection of bids, the BEOF and city were able to enter negotiations to secure a contractor. However, after that failed, the bids were sent out again with some modifications. Finally a bid came in at a doable $2.1 million.
The contract was awarded to Billy Contracting and Restoration, Inc. for the first phase of construction for the school. Prior to this, the city had spent $500,000 on the removal of asbestos and the upgrade of the electrical system in the school building.
“There’s going to be additional renovations,” she said. “This is the beginning of the process. We’re finally able to get the construction part started.”
First phase commencing
Renovations in Phase 1 include the installation of a new roof, a new air conditioning unit, and the installation of new tanks after the old ones were removed with the asbestos. The $1.5 million grant from Head Start will support the cost of the $2.1 million renovations, in addition to other monies.
“We have raised additional funds through private donors and grants as well,” she said.
The renovations will be funded by: $1,557,355 from Federal Head Start, $381,440 from Community Development Block Grant funds, $125,000 from a private donation from Hudson Lutheran Charity, $180,000 from a private donation from Community Health Connections Foundation, $100,000 from a private anonymous donation, and $7,000 from a private in-kind donation.
This part of the project must break ground by December or risk funding being reallocated. Following the completion of those renovations, the project will enter Phase 2. While initially slated to be complete in 2018, the project is likely to continue into 2022.
Securing additional funding
“In the meantime, Head Start recognized that inflation affected the project and there was an opportunity for us to get additional funding,” she said. “We had to let them know what we could get done based on the money that we had been awarded pre-COVID. Now I’m going back to the table with them to say now this is what it’s going to take place to finish the project. So it became a two-part process.”
The extra money would finance the additional renovations needed to complete Phase 2. Howard said the additional renovations would be bid out at a later date. Following those renovations, the school would be complete.
“COVID has caused the cost of this project, as any other project, to really increase tremendously,” she said. “It affected our budget and so in order to get additional dollars, we need to get this project underway. And now we’re talking to [Head Start] to try and secure additional funding to finish the project.”
However, this is just for the former Holy Family school building. The convent, which will house the BEOF headquarters, still needs to be renovated.
Convent needs work, too
“That’s totally separate,” she said. “Head Start is not going to renovate our office space at all. This is strictly for the school building.”
According to Howard, the renovations for the convent are still in the planning phases.
“What I’ve discovered on that and raising funding, is that, we’ve written many grants and been very successful,” she said. “You can write grants for seniors. You can write grants for things like education. But nobody is interested in helping us renovate our office. Raising the money to do the convent is a separate project altogether.”
Howard is currently optimistic about a potential funding source, but nothing is set in stone. In the meantime, the BEOF will continue to operate out of its current building.
“I don’t want to put the cart before the horse, but we are currently working on a grant that we potentially think might be what’s needed for the convent,” she said.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.