The South Orange - Maplewood School District will consider building an addition to Columbia High School (CHS) that would house a new aquatic center with a six-lane pool and a fitness center, according to the Board of Education (BOE) discussion on Monday night.
The aquatic center is one option the board is discussing to refurbish the existing pool -- which is currently closed because the ceiling is structurally unsound -- while gaining additional classroom space.
The plan was presented by the district's Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider, who showed the board blueprints of the proposed addition.
The aquatic center would be built in the current gym parking lot, with an entrance on Valley Street. That plan would also construct a new, 2,400 square- foot fitness center to replace the current one.
Such a move would free up a large amount of additional space to become flexible, multipurpose classrooms that could house an additional 250-300 students, as well as allow for the renovation of the school's science labs. (The population at CHS is projected to rise from 1,800 to 2,200 students over the next several years.)
The original Guastavino tiles on the pool ceiling would be maintained in a large, open space that could be used for performances and events as well as classrooms, with the addition of partitions.
“The way of the future is to have this flexible learning space,” said Schneider. Board president Beth Daugherty said the plan would allow the district to create "academic clusters," in which academic departments would be located near each other to further collaboration and sharing of resources.
Two other options are to renovate the pool in its existing space or to eliminate the pool entirely and repurpose the space into classrooms. "You really only get the flexibility of space in the existing footprint if you build additional space," said Daugherty.
The project would cost approximately $8.5 million, said Schneider, which the district would take on as additional debt service.
The overall impact on taxes is determined by the combination of the increase in the operating budget and the amount of debt service the district takes on.
"In real dollars it would be an additional $750,000 going forward year after year, which would probably mean an increase of $30 per average household per year," she said.
The district bonds between $10 million and $12 million every three years to pay for an ongoing list of capital projects. Bonding for capital improvements must be approved by the Board of School Estimate (BSE).
The district is exploring partnering with another institution (such as the South Mountain YMCA) as well as corporate sponsorships to offset costs. Also, Schneider said she would look into the amount of revenue the pool could generate if it were open to the outside community.
"I am strongly against an aquatic center unless we have a large donation," said Board member Jeffrey Bennett. He said that $750,000 is "a lot when we have so many other needs."
Board member Bill Gaudelli said, "If we're going to take away from the operating budget, is it fair to add an aquatic center?"
The district will hold a special community meeting to discuss the issue on November 14 at 7:30 p.m., location to be determined.
If the BOE decides to go ahead with the plan, it will ask the BSE to approve the bonding in February and will award the contract in April, so that the project could begin in the summer. It is expected to take about a year to complete.