The Board of School Estimate will decide tonight whether to allow the School District to move forward on financing more than $15.6 million in bonds for capital projects.
On December 19, the gave district staff million in bonds for 27 capital projects across the school district — some of which are already completed while others are in very preliminary planning stages.
The Board of Education approved bonding for all the projects despite the fact that Board member Mark Gleason suggested excising a few projects from the list because of their undetermined nature. For example, Gleason thought it ill-advised to approve financing for $1.78 million in pool deck improvements to the pool at Columbia High School when the district's architectural consultant is considering suggesting that the district build a new aquatic center.
In the end, Board President and Facilities Chair Beth Daugherty noted that the Board "had this conversation about the pool last year," and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Osborne said, "We need to prudently ensure that our pool doesn't fall apart" — even as the district waits on a determination of the pool's long-term feasibility and/or the construction of a new facility.
In December 2010, a list of projects was presented to the Board for approval to be completed over a three-year period, over the summers of 2011, 2012 and 2013. However, at that time, the district's capital advisors suggested that the district sell one-year notes to cover the cost of projects scheduled for the summer of 2011 and wait until this year to finance the three-year project schedule, said Cheryl Schneider, School Business Administrator/Board Secretary. Authorization of bond sales in January will allow the sale to take place by March, in time to repay the one year notes as well as finance the future projects.
The projects proposed include partial roof replacements at four of the district schools, mechanical upgrades at three elementary buildings, bathroom renovations at five elementary buildings and at Maplewood Middle School, installation of auditorium ventilation systems at three district schools, pool repairs at Columbia High School, bleacher replacement at Maplewood Middle School, Science lab renovations at South Orange Middle School, Auditorium renovations at Columbia High School, electrical switchgear replacement at Columbia High School, lighting at Underhill Field, renovation of the Montrose School building, an addition to Maplewood Middle School and paving projects at Seth Boyden, Montrose School and Columbia High School.
The projects already completed or in process are the roof replacements, the mechanical upgrades, the bleacher replacement, the Underhill lights and the paving projects.
However, projects such as the renovation of Montrose School and the construction of an addition for Maplewood Middle School are still in development. The district is proposing an addition of 6-7 classrooms (including four science labs) at the Middle School to accommodate the increasing enrollment that has been moving through the elementary schools. At the Dec. 19 meeting, Schneider discussed the fact that, if the district were to sell the Montrose School, it would not recoup its value at this time since extensive renovations are needed and the third floor is currently unusable. District consultants felt that, due to enrollment increases, the best plan for the building would be renovation instead of sale.
In addition to new projects under consideration, older projects still being completed include common area lighting projects throughout the district, mechanical projects at multiple schools including the Columbia High School auditorium air conditioning (ACHIEVE is contributing $350,000 toward the total cost of the $1.35 million auditorium renovation), and security gates at Columbia High School, Maplewood Middle School and South Orange Middle School.
The list of 27 projects and their associated costs are attached as Schedule A on the resolution to submit to the Board of School Estimate.
According to Schneider, the annual debt service figures are similar to debt the schohol district has carried in previous years. "As you are aware, because the current year’s debt service was low compared to other years, the tax impact of the 2011-12 budget was only a 1.89% tax increase when debt service was included even though the operating budget had a 2.0% increase," Schneider wrote in a memo to the Board. "With debt service increasing for next year, the reverse will be true."
Schneider's full memo to the Board of Education is also attached.
The Board of School Estimate is a governing body that decides on tax levies related to the South Orange-Maplewood School District. The Board of School Estimate is made up of elected leaders from Maplewood's Township Committee and the South Orange Village Board of Trustees.