The fate of a $27.4 million school construction project will rest in the hands of town voters in a few days, and Mayor Michael Gonnelli is hoping they’ll give the measure the go-ahead.
Voters can cast their ballots for or against the school construction referendum on Tuesday, Dec. 10, from 1 to 9 p.m. in a special election.
The town won’t have to foot the whole bill if the referendum is passed. The district would receive approximately 25 percent reimbursement from the state.
According to Gonnelli, the school monies would help provide Secaucus with a “true” middle school, rather than one connected to the high school. It would open up classroom and other space in both the Huber Street and Clarendon elementary schools and Secaucus High School that could be used to accommodate the increased school population.
The middle school/high school complex has been outgrown by its student population for more than a decade. While elementary schools expanded during that time to accommodate more students coming into the system, the Millridge Road complex has largely remained unchanged since its construction in the 1970s.
“This seems like a small price to pay for the benefit of our children’s future.” – Mayor Michael Gonnelli
According to a report, the school district has for several years been experiencing enrollment increases in its kindergarten to sixth grade student population, resulting in both of the district’s K-6 schools exceeding their “functional student capacity,” as determined by New Jersey Department of Education standards. The board also recently updated its student enrollment demographic study, with it projecting grades K-6 enrollment to continue increasing for at least the next five years.
After review of various options for addressing the current and projected enrollment increases, the board determined the most favorable and efficient plan to address them is reconfiguring the school district’s facilities into two K-5 schools, a grade 6-8 middle school, and grade 9-12 high school.
New classrooms and lab
The project would include construction of new academic classrooms, a technology lab, a discovery classroom, science classrooms, a green house and prep and auxiliary spaces, and a new main/guidance office.
The plan also calls for the conversion and relocation of some existing academic and administrative spaces to create additional academic classrooms, a new computer lab, and technology classroom. It also provides for expansion of the school’s Media Center and cafeteria, and construction of a new high school gymnasium and training and support areas.
The state’s funding would cover about $7 million of the total project cost, according to Gonnelli.
Support for the referendum
The mayor has touted the measure, saying that sans the state portion, the actual cost to Secaucus taxpayers will be about $20.4 million.
“The state’s contribution to this project, taken in combination with the fact that 65 percent of the town’s tax base comes from commercial and industrial properties, equates to homeowners only being responsible for about $7.15 million, or 26 percent of the total project,” Gonnelli said in a written statement.
“Put another way, the three years [2015 to 2017] with the greatest net impact on taxes will cost the average homeowner a little less than $9 per month. This seems like a small price to pay for the benefit of our children’s future.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.