By JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK — After a proposal for two new schools in North Brunswick failed last year, residents approved a plan to build one new school and renovate an existing school during a special election this year.
The referendum passed by a count of 1,807 “yes” votes versus 1,648 “no” votes on Dec. 13.
The construction of a new seventh/eighth grade middle school on land to be acquired by the district near the Renaissance development on Route 130 south, plus alterations, renovations and improvements to Linwood Middle School on Linwood Place, totals $77,348,000, with state funds in the amount of $8,921,775.
The tax impact will be approximately $19 per month, or $228 per year, on the average assessed home of $157,080.
The new school should be built by 2020, with the renovations at Linwood expected for completion six months after that.
“I think the Board of Education and our community supporters went out of their way to do as much educating [as possible] on the needs of the district,” Superintendent of Schools Brian Zychowski said of the comparison between last year’s voting and this year’s results. “Our best voter is an educated voter.”
The new referendum is a revised plan from the one in December 2015, which called for the construction of two new schools because of current overcrowding in the district.
Last year’s referendum was $88 million, but with state aid, it was $79 million for taxpayers, Zychowski said. The tax impact at the time would have been $24 per month, or $288 per year, on the average assessed home.
The machine count was 1,137 “yes” votes to 1,537 “no” votes, with an additional 43 “yes” and 45 “no” votes by mail, for a total of 1,180 affirmative to 1,582 negative votes for the new schools, according to information provided by the Middlesex County Clerk’s Office.
Instead, with the new plan, renovations will be performed at Linwood to include fifth and sixth grades. The Early Childhood Center (ECC), which is currently at a building the township leases from Milltown, and the Board of Education offices, set inside the old Maple Meade School on Georges Road, will be moved to Linwood. STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs will also be expanded.
“Having a school that is overcrowded or has temporary structures doesn’t bode well for property values,” said Zychowski. “Schools must align with the township’s vision … of making the township an attractive community.”
According to census numbers, North Brunswick Township has grown from about 16,691 residents in 1970 to 42,725 in 2015, reflecting a 45-year increase of approximately 155 percent, according to information provided by Zychowski.
The school district has also expanded, increasing by 1,100 students since 1995, and will continue to grow, especially with the residential component of the MainStreetNB transit village project on Route 1. According to Zychowski, enrollment throughout the district has increased from 4,523 students in 1995 to 6,302 students as of 2015.
The New Jersey Department of Education expects a 9 percent growth rate, or about 120-150 additional students each year, or 575 additional students, by 2020.
“Due to the significant increase in the township population since our most recent school was built in 1973, schools’ facilities are overcrowded, and costly temporary space solutions such as trailers and additional leased facilities are insufficient,” Zychowski said.
In addition, the ECC, which serves 3- and 4-year-old special-needs students, has a growing population, but nowhere to go in-district, Zychowski said.
“Due to a significant lack of space, the district has resorted to leasing off-site classroom space for these children in neighboring Milltown. In addition to the yearly rental expense of $250,000, the sense of exclusion associated with transporting our 3- and 4-year-old special-needs students to a different location is a high price to pay — instead of busing students to Milltown, they need to learn and grow educationally in their hometown of North Brunswick.”
Moving forward post-referendum, the district will purchase the land on the Renaissance site for the new school, bonding only the money necessary for the purchase, Zychowski said.
The school board will then spend the next few months working on detailed designs down to site work, parking lot dimensions and even molding and flooring, Zychowski said. The Department of Education will review the plan, and then the board will put the project out to bid.
“The focus is spending every dollar wisely and making sure the design matches the budget,” Zychowski said.
Zychowski delivered praises to people who helped in having this referendum pass.
“We are very grateful to the volunteers and the Board of Education for getting the message out,” Zychowski said. “And we are very grateful to the residents who supported the needs of the district.”
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.