While embracing Gov. Christopher Christie’s reelection effort may not have helped local officials win reprieve from a statewide school construction funding ban, it certainly didn’t hurt, said Mayor Michael Gonnelli last week.
Christie had suspended a state program to reimburse school districts for construction projects, but Secaucus was among a number of school districts that recently appealed to the governor for relief from the ban. Now, the town has received notice that the school district can get some state funding toward a new middle school – that is, if Secaucus voters approve a $27.4 million school construction referendum in a special election in December.
Should the voters approve the measure, the district will receive approximately 25 percent reimbursement from the state.
Separate from the high school
Gonnelli said that the money would go toward providing Secaucus with a “true” middle school, rather than one connected to the high school. It would open up classroom and other space in both elementary schools and the high school that could be used to accommodate the increased school population
The Middle School/High School complex has been under pressure to expand for more than a decade. While elementary schools expanded during that time to accommodate more students coming into the system, the Middle School/High School complex has largely remained unchanged since its construction in the 1970s – except for relatively minor changes.
The state rebate program was designed to help offset some of the costs local districts faced since the cost of construction had to be raised by taxes locally otherwise.
Christie had suspended the rebate program for review, partly because of perceived abuses elsewhere in the state.
Construction only part of the changes
The Board of Education is proposing a $27.4 million Middle/High School renovation and expansion project to the voters for their consideration. This would be financed by issuing bonds, school officials said.
According to a report to the board, the school district has over the last several years been experiencing enrollment increases in its grades K-6 student population, which has resulted in both of the School District’s K-6 schools currently exceeding their “functional student capacity,” as determined in accordance with New Jersey Department of Education standards. The board has also recently updated its student enrollment demographic study, which projects grades K-6 student enrollment to continue increasing for at least the next five years.
After review of various options for addressing the current and projected grades K-6 student enrollment increases, the board has determined that the most educationally favorable and economically efficient plan to address such increases is to reconfigure the school district’s facilities into: two K-5 schools, a grade 6-8 middle school, and grade 9-12 high school.
The board, in consultation with the school district architect, has submitted the School Facilities Plan to the New Jersey Department of Education for its review and determination as to state aid eligibility.
After review, NJDOE has awarded state “debt service aid” to the School District in the amount of 25.2 percent of the maximum project cost – if voters approve the referendum.
The project, according to the report, would include construction of new academic classrooms, a technology lab, a discovery classroom, science classrooms, a green house and related prep and support spaces, and a new main/guidance office.
This would also involve the conversion and relocation of certain existing academic and administrative spaces to create additional academic classrooms, and a new computer lab and technology classroom. The project calls for expansion of the school’s Media Center and cafeteria.
The project would construct a new high school gymnasium and related training and support spaces.
“The state’s approval would save us about $7 million on the total cost,” Gonnelli said. “This would create a true middle school, and it would clear up space at Clarendon School, Huber Street School, and the high school.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.