By Frank Mustac, Special Writer
Chronic leaky roofs, outdated heating and ventilation systems and drafty windows and doors are just some of the troubles at aging buildings in the Hopewell Valley Regional schools, say district leaders.
Officials are planning a remedy. A preliminary proposal for a $36 million bond referendum to fund repair work and other construction at several schools was presented by Superintendent Thomas Smith at Monday’s school board meeting.
Because a percentage of the bond would be paid for by the state through a program called debt service aid, Dr. Smith said, local property taxpayers would finance about $23.6 million of the bond repayment.
The state aid program is part of the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act passed in 2000.
“We are a district that has eight buildings, and three of our buildings are 90-plus years old,” Dr. Smith said.
Hopewell Elementary and Toll Gate Grammar schools are both approaching the century mark, and the district administration building is just about as old. The next oldest building is Central High School, built in the 1960s.
In 1966, the newly regionalized school district authorized the construction of a $2 million Timberlane Junior School on a site adjacent to the new Central High School. The original Central High School, on Pennington’s South Main Street, today houses the district administration offices.
Among the capital improvement projects identified are more than $7 million worth of roofing that needs to be replaced, plus work on heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, especially at the high school and middle school.
Old and inefficient windows and doors need to be maintained or replaced, the superintendent said, and mortar between bricks on Hopewell Elementary School’s facade is beginning to fail, so repointing work is necessary.
Other projects in the proposed referendum are upgrades to fire alarms and intercoms at all the schools, and renovations to playgrounds, restrooms and media centers.
At the high school, reconfiguration of the entrance and offices is planned, as well as installation of new ceilings and energy-efficient lighting, plus renovations to the cafeteria.
A 10,500 square-foot addition at the high school described as an “Arts and Wellness space” is also being proposed.
The school district initially determined that $60 million worth of projects were needed, the superintendent said, but that figure was cut almost in half.
“We take our responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars very seriously,” Dr. Smith said. “We’ve done our due diligence to review these projects and identified only those that are most needed.”
The work being proposed, he said, is “not a list of dream projects, but a request to address some of the significant facility needs that face our students and our community.”
All the projects, he said, “are directly tied to students.”
During his presentation, the superintendent described a number of tasks that have to be accomplished before residents in Hopewell Township and Pennington and Hopewell boroughs can vote on the bond referendum, which is tentatively scheduled for September.
If voters pass the referendum, work could start as early as June 2017 and be completed by August 2018.
Some of the slides presented by the superintendent described the impact of the bond on taxpayers, broken out by municipality.
The estimated annual debt payment Dr. Smith provided in his presentation for a $36 million bond, based on receiving debt service aid from the state for eligible projects, is $1.7 million per year over 20 years, or $1.5 million per year over 25 years.
Adding $36 million in additional debt over 20 years would add $31.66 for each $100,000 of assessed value in Hopewell Borough; $36.88 per $100,000 in Hopewell Township; and $31.55 per $100,000 in Pennington Borough, according to the superintendent.
Over 25 years, adding $36 million in additional debt would add $28.25 per $100,000 of assessed property value in Hopewell Borough; $32.88 per $100,000 in Hopewell Township; and $28.64 per $100,000 in Pennington Borough.
“I strongly encourage everyone to review the superintendent’s presentation,” said Lisa Wolff, the school board president, on Tuesday. “According to the time line, our Board of Education will make a final decision on the scope of work and referendum questions by the end of February. Members of the public should come to the meeting on Feb. 8 to provide guidance or input.”