Motion passes unanimously with public vote set to take place on Dec. 11.
Cherry Hill’s Board of Education adopted three ballot questions aimed at more than $210 million worth of physical improvements to district schools at a special meeting last Tuesday.
As expected, the resolution was accepted with a unanimous 8–0 vote.
On Dec. 11, citizens of Cherry Hill will go to the polls and vote on the largest school bond referendum to take place in New Jersey in at least a decade.
The vote was not without some controversy, as several members of the public spoke out against the lack of transparency the district showed by failing to reveal the cost of the planned upgrades until last week.
During public comment portion, Jeff Podowitz scolded the board that, “for $210 million, this community deserves a lot more of a commitment” to opening channels of communication for projects of this size. Chelten Parkway resident Rick Short followed by pointedly calling the passage of the questions “the worst bond ever for Cherry Hill public schools.”
However, Cherry Hill Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche opted for a more optimistic route, calling the vote “an incredible step forward,” and congratulated the board on its work to get the bond questions passed.
Residents will be asked to vote either “yes” or “no” to each of the three questions, which are progressive, meaning the first question must pass so that the second question will have a chance at being approved. For question three to have a chance at passing, both questions one and two have to pass.
The first question would amount to slightly less than $50 million, which includes security upgrades at 15 schools along with construction of new security entrances to Harte, Stockton and Rosa schools. There will also be significant building repairs, such as exterior wall repairs at all schools, asbestos abatement at most schools, and partial or full roof replacement at some buildings. All of the elementary schools would receive new HVAC units in their existing all-purpose room in question one, and Johnson Elementary School would receive a new multi-purpose room.
The largest question, question two, was slated to cost in excess of $113 million. It includes additional infrastructure work, such as ceiling and light fixture replacement in every school, electrical system upgrades, HVAC upgrades and replacement and water piping replacement at some buildings. Under the plans for this question, Rosa Elementary is slated to undergo a complete overhaul of its dining area.
Also included in question two, Carusi Middle School would receive a roof replacement and new fire alarm system. Because of the large amount of work involved with improving Carusi, temporary classroom units would need to be utilized during the 2019–20 school year if the question passes. The cost of those units are also included.
Other projects attached to question two include building new small group instruction rooms at multiple schools, classroom toilet renovations at all of the elementary schools and Barclay Early Childhood Center, and the construction of new multi-purpose rooms at Barton, Kingston, Knight, Mann and Sharp elementaries.
Question three would total approximately $47.6 million, where the middle schools and high schools would receive upgrades in community spaces. Proposed projects under this final question include auditorium, locker room and athletic facility upgrades at Cherry Hill High School East, science lab, locker room and athletic facility improvements at Cherry Hill High School West, an overhaul of the gym and locker room at Carusi as well as a locker room renovation at Beck Middle School. Also on the docket are hard surface projects, such as paving, new sidewalks and curbs, building accessibility improvements and better storm drainage.
Should the first question pass, the average home in Cherry Hill would pay a little more than $71 annually toward debt service, resulting in a yearly reduction of about $4 in taxes.
If both questions one and two are passed, the average home would see taxes increase about $162 annually to $237. Passage of all three questions would result in an annual increase of $232 in taxes, to about $307. The district also confirmed its plans for 20-year bonds on the projects.
Should all three questions fail, the average assessed home in Cherry Hill would see a reduction in taxes of roughly $75 as the district is expected to pay off its existing debt at the end of the 2018–19 school year.
Polls will be open for the bond referendum from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 11. Polling places residents use for the general election will also be used for the bond referendum.
To view the full list of projects for all three questions, visit www.chclc.org/board-of-education/2020-vision.