By KAYLA J. MARSH
An upcoming Special School Election for the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District will ask voters to approve two referendum questions regarding heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) projects that will upgrade classrooms, instructional spaces, public spaces and offices throughout the district.
The referendum questions will ask voters to approve the sale of bonds to finance the costs of 14 capital projects that are separated into seven projects on the first question and seven projects on the second question.
According to Charles Anthony Solimine, attorney at McManimon, Scotland & Baumann in Roseland, the total cost of question one is $13,400,000, which would lead to the heating and cooling upgrades in every classroom across the district.
Question two, if question one passes successfully, would approve $6,456,000 in heating and cooling upgrades in student spaces such as auditoriums, kitchens and gymnasiums and would also provide for improvements to some administrative spaces.
The total result is $19,856,000.
The election will take place from 5-9 p.m. March 8.
“Our referendum has to do with replacing a lot of the old HVAC that we have throughout the district [and] these are for original units to the buildings,” said Adam Nasr, supervisor of operations and maintenance. “A lot of people don’t realize the average age of our buildings is 51 years old, and most of these units are at the end of their life.”
At a public referendum forum at Strathmore Elementary School on Feb. 17, Nasr said over the past several years, the district has worked diligently to overhaul critical systems in the schools in order to extend their lifespan and has replaced boilers and fire alarms, made security enhancements, renovated locker rooms, replaced bleachers and more.
He said while the buildings are structurally sound, other systems must be replaced periodically to ensure continued operation, with the most complex part being the HVAC system.
With parts becoming less common and motors and other components becoming less efficient over time, Nasr said the systems become more expensive to operate and maintain.
“We’ve been doing what we can to keep them going throughout the year … but no matter how we look at it, we are going to have to replace this equipment eventually,” Nasr said. “As the equipment breaks down, it is becoming more expensive to maintain, so we’ve had to defer maintenance in order to make ends meet.
“Putting this project together, we looked at the needs of the students and the future needs of the educational programs and through advising with our architect we’ve put together a good project that is as cost-effective as we can make it.”
According to William “Ted” Hopkins, vice president of Ewing-based architectural firm Fraytak Veisz Hopkins Duthie, P.C. (FVHD), the referendum funding would cover new unit ventilators/air handlers, exhaust, controls and electrical upgrades that will bring the district up to current state codes.
He said it would also add air conditioning to the instructional spaces that do not currently have it and replace ones that do.
“From a design perspective it is not that difficult, but from a building-to-building perspective it can be a little challenging so we are recommending, if the referendums pass, that the district take a couple of their buildings every year and do half of the building and then work that over the next few years in order to get them all done,” he said.
The referendum being proposed would allow the district Board of Education to sell bonds to finance the costs of the proposed improvements.
The breakdown of the projects for question one is as follows: For Cambridge Park Elementary School, built in 1970, 13 units would be upgraded at a cost of $852,000. Cliffwood Avenue Elementary School, built in 1958, would see 18 units replaced at a cost of $1,280,000. Lloyd Road Elementary School, built in 1967, would see 26 units upgraded at a cost of $2,094,000. Ravine Drive Elementary School, built in 1966, would see 26 units upgraded at $2,045,000. At Strathmore Elementary School, built in 1963, 33 units would be replaced at a cost of $2,578,000. At Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School, built in 1970, a cost of $2,640,000 would be needed to replace 12 units and at Matawan Regional High School, built in 1962, 32 units would be replaced at a cost of $1,911,000.
The breakdown of the projects for question two is as follows: For Cambridge Park Elementary School, 15 units would be upgraded at a cost of $1,098,000. Cliffwood Avenue Elementary School would see two units replaced at a cost of $275,000. Lloyd Road Elementary School would see 11 units upgraded at a cost of $808,000. Ravine Drive Elementary School would see four units upgraded at $514,000. At Strathmore Elementary School, six units would be replaced at a cost of $418,000. At Matawan-Aberdeen Middle School, a cost of $1,855,000 would be needed to replace 28 units, and at Matawan Regional High School, 11 units would be replaced at a cost of $1,488,000.
Solimine said the New Jersey Department of Education has approved the district for Debt Service Aid, which will cover 34 percent of the repayments over the life of the bond.
“The school district and board were very diligent about determining the scope of the project,” he said. “They wanted to make sure how they could incorporate a project into the school district’s current debt structure without increasing the amount of money out of the taxpayer’s pocket.
“So they tapped into that number of $13.4 million and they are going to finance over approximately 25 years at 3.8 percent.”
The tax impact of each question is as follows: Question one, which results in a zero tax increase as it would replace maturing debt expiring June 2016, represents $54.44 per year for the average house in Matawan assessed at $297,797 and $50.87 per year for the average house in Aberdeen assessed at $266,928.
“This is the same amount that is going off of the school district’s debt currently,” Solimine said. “Currently, the district is paying for projects, and the last time they will be making a debt-service payment on those projects is in its 2015-16 budget.
“So now that debt is rolling off, and these new projects will be factored in and will start to be paid for by the school district.”
For question two, it represents an increase of $19.72 per year for the average house in Matawan assessed at $297,797 and $18.44 per year for the average house in Aberdeen assessed at $266,928.
“We’re charged with making decisions every day, and first and foremost, it is about what is in the best interest of the child,” Superintendent Joseph Majka said. “Secondly, it is going about it in a fiscally responsible manner, which I believe this project does.”
“When I look at this, I look at debt coming off and [see] an opportunity to use grant money from the state coupled with rolling over our debt to make our buildings compliant and improve the life of the buildings and bring in units that are efficient, which in theory, will lower our costs over time.
“To me when I sit down and think about that, it makes sense to [do] this.
“It is very important for a child to come into an environment [where] they don’t have to put a jacket on in homeroom and go to the next room and take the jacket off and literally have to wear shorts. It disrupts the learning environment, and if we can replace HVAC systems that are 20 years over their age limit with new, efficient units, it is going to improve the lives of our children and staff members; it will improve test scores … the air is going to be cleaner and it creates a healthier environment, lightens the … building and will give us an opportunity to use the buildings all year long.”
If the referendum questions are approved, construction would begin around the summer of 2017 and would be phased in over several years, according to Nasr.
“We are not going to be able to do it all at once, but our best bet would be to stage it over a three to five-year period taking advantage of smaller portions of the buildings,” Nasr said. “It is going to depend on where our priority needs are and what is going to be happening in the buildings.
“The fact of the matter is, we still have to operate as a school district so that is the challenge. We need to find out what is going to be happening around the schools so that we can make sure that we’re not interrupting the core function of the district anymore than we have to.”
Two more Public Referendum forums will be held Feb. 24 at Ravine Drive Elementary School and March 2 at Matawan Regional High School from 6-8 p.m.