HOPEWELL: School district makes final push for approval of $35M referendum

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By Frank Mustac, Contributor
The superintendent of schools spoke on Monday about the upcoming $35 million bond referendum scheduled for next week.
If residents in Hopewell Borough, Pennington Borough and Hopewell Township pass the facilities bond referendum during the special election on Tuesday, Sept. 27, the bond will be able to fund repair work, construction, alterations and other capital improvements at several schools in the district.
During the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 19, Superintendent Thomas Smith said that if the school bond measure passes, the following weeks “will be a very busy couple of weeks for us.”
“We will start our planning and moving forward, not only on our financing but for the bids and planning for construction,” he said.
Among the proposed capital improvement projects is more than $7 million worth of roof replacement work and repairs for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems (HVAC), especially at the Hopewell Valley Central High School and Timberlane Middle School.
Given the unseasonably high temperatures that hit the area during the first weeks of the school year, especially the uncomfortable temperatures experienced inside the high school on Sept. 14, Dr. Smith said the upgrades and repairs were sorely needed.
“If you were at the high school at Back to School Night, you experienced a little bit of what students experience on a daily basis,” he said.
Though heat and cooling have been a cause for concern for teachers, students and administrators alike, Dr. Smith said regular roof leaks during rainfall must also be addressed.
“If you saw us at the high school today, you saw us chase a number of roof leaks,” he said, referring to conditions inside the school due to the rainfall on Sept. 19. “We have done countless hours of maintenance to patch and fix these roofs, however the roof is just too large and too old that it can no longer be repaired. It has to be replaced.”
Superintendent Smith also talked about renovation plans for the cafeteria at the high school, and the planned construction of a $5.2 million, 10,500 square-foot “Arts and Wellness” addition to the high school.
The new addition will include a new gymnasium and space for students enrolled in performing arts courses.
“Hopewell Elementary and Toll Gate Grammar schools, two of our older schools, need window replacements and roof work,” he said. “Also, Toll Gate is looking at heating and ventilation replacement in the gym.”
Along with building-specific projects, district officials said the referendum will pay for an updated fire alarm system and a new communications system for all of the district’s schools.
Plans also include the implementation of a new alert system that would quickly relay information to parents in the event of an emergency.
“All of our buildings will receive an updated fire alarm system and also communications systems for their intercoms, which also functions as an alert system,” he said. “So if one our buildings were to go into an emergency situation, we would then be able to send out emergency texts immediately to parents letting them know the status.”
The district, Dr. Smith said, is looking to upgrade all of the media centers at the schools. For example, he said, because each high school student has his or her own Chromebook computer to use, the computer lab in the media center at the high school is no longer needed.
“So we’re looking at retooling those spaces to be much more of a ‘maker’s’ space with 3D printers, where students can work on projects and participate in small-group instruction,” the superintendent said.
Turning to financing, Superintendent Smith said that about $26 million worth of planned projects are eligible under the state’s debt service aid program, while part of the Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act allows for up to 40 percent reimbursement for eligible projects.
“Assuming the referendum will pass, the state will earmark $10 million in funds that will be returned back to Hopewell Township Regional School District,” Dr. Smith said. “The estimated final cost to the taxpayer is $25 million for $35 million worth of projects.”
For each individual property taxpayer, he said, it will mean a $13 increase per $100,000 of assessed property value per year.
“That is really only for three years, because after that some of our debt will fall off and all of our debt projects will fall off and our debt service will be reduced substantially,” the superintendent said.
A complete list of projects at each school, as well as an informational video about the referendum as a whole, is currently available for viewing at the district’s website, www.hvrsd.org. 