Home Cherry Hill News Board of education discusses implications of building upgrades

Board of education discusses implications of building upgrades

District plans to elevate two administrators to new roles.

At its most recent public gathering, Cherry Hill’s board of education received some sobering news regarding the costs involved with improving the district’s aging and outdated infrastructure. 

Bob Garrison, of Garrison Architect PC, gave a presentation to the board at the outset of the Dec. 8 virtual gathering on the financial differences between renovations and total rebuilds of the district’s educational facilities.

“These buildings have served us well, but we need to invest dollars to keep them going,” Garrison said. 

Snapshots of the costs for work on Kingston Elementary, Carusi Middle School and Cherry Hill High School East were offered. Kingston’s renovations were placed at an estimated $12.7 million, with a rebuild clocking in at $25.4 million. For Carusi, the figures were placed at $33.7 million and $60.6 million, with East’s renewals estimated for $81 million and $155.5 million, respectively. 

Overall, Garrison’s estimates for tearing down and reconstructing all 19 district buildings soared past $700 million. A three-question, $210-million bond referendum — which involved safety and security upgrades, as well as physical plant renovations, to Johnson Elementary, Rosa and Carusi middle schools and both high schools — was resoundingly struck down by the community back in December of 2018. 

Garrison’s presentation was made in anticipation of another referendum on the matter, at a time still to be determined.  

In light of the presentation, Board President Lisa Saidel initiated an informal straw poll on the feeling among her fellow board members. All eight (Saidel, Laurie Neary, Kimberly Friddell, Eric Goodwin, Carol Matlack, Ben Ovadia, Ruth Schultz and Sally Tong) agreed that renovations would be the best course. Tong, Matlack, Friddell and Goodwin further clarified their positions, adding they would be amenable to rebuilding anything requiring it, upon further discussion and analysis. 

“The one thing we’re always committed to … we’re asking a lot of questions, we’re challenging a lot of things that we see based on our experience,” Garrison concluded. “We’re going to be good listeners going forward, receptive to the community, because that’s the only way an eventual referendum gets passed.”

Ovadia revealed that discussions with the community on the matter were not likely to take place until February at the earliest. The board’s strategic planning committee would have to meet first, in January, to fully discuss the matter, before bringing its findings to the public board meeting later that month.  

“We don’t want Frankenstein buildings. We don’t want buildings that are thrown together. Our students deserve better than these buildings,” Ovadia added. “That’s where we need to step up as a community and as a board.”

The board additionally gave its overwhelming consent to the creation of a pair of new job descriptions: Assistant Superintendent for PreK-12 and Curriculum and another Assistant Superintendent post regarding Compliance, Equity and Student Services. 

Superintendent Joseph Meloche revealed that Dr. Farrah Mahan would be promoted to the former and LaCoyya Weathington would be promoted to the latter. Mahan currently serves as director of curriculum for the district and Weathington handles all matters pertaining to affirmative action, Title IX issues and equity compliance. 

“Dr. Mahan and Mrs. Weathington have been employed by the district, and incredibly successful in their positions,” Meloche stated.

During public comment, almost a dozen parents expressed displeasure with the district’s handling of special needs students, particularly in light of the unique challenges presented by COVID-fueled virtual learning. Each voiced deep concern that Weathington’s planned promotion would do little to foster change.  

“Yes, there are people that have had concerns: with me, with Mrs. Shugars, with every one of the board members, principals and teachers,” Meloche acknowledged. “It’s our job to maintain the fidelity of instructional programming in the district, to meet the individual needs of the students, and to do that in a fiscally responsible way.”

Meloche added that interviews to fill the open assistant superintendent slot, vacated by Justin Smith, would continue shortly. Smith departed Cherry Hill in July to become lead educator for the Evesham Township School District.

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