The Cherry Hill board of education held a special meeting on Jan. 18 to review the community Thought Exchange on the Bond Referendum and provide an update to the proposal that will be voted on at the next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
The top comments from the Thought Exchange related to having safe and healthy learning spaces and to make the schools more accessible. Other concerns expressed at the meeting included upgrading technology, improving the air ventilation and playground equipment and a general need for physical improvements throughout the district.
Architect Robert “Bob” Garrison Jr. from Garrison Architects, accompanied by Financial Advisor Sherry Tracey from Phoenix Advisors, Bond Attorney Tony Solimine from Wilentz Goldman and Spitzer PA and Construction Manager Rob Notley from New Road Construction Management led a presentation on the bond referendum proposal as well as the district improvement tax impact.
With many needs in the school district, Garrison shared that the firms based their recommendations on the New Jersey Department of Education’s Project Prioritization Eligibility Chart.
“What we’ve done is that we’ve broken that 400 million dollars – that huge, large number that’s out there – we broke it into different levels and categories,” Garrison explained at the meeting.
“We reinvigorated the pie charts, broke them down and gave a little bit more detail, and I’ll be describing some of those things, some of those needs and the costs associated with that.”
According to the firms’ presentation, Level One would cost $309 million and focus on “the most critical operational building needs,” including health and safety issues and program mandates,” building upgrades and plumbing systems, roofs, and site drainage.
Level 2 will deal with the renewal of existing buildings, overcrowding, and/or improving the quality of existing instructional spaces. That would involve replacing and repairing interior finishes like floors and walls, lighting, renovating or adding new classrooms to ease overcrowding and technology infrastructure upgrades. The estimated cost for level two is $60 million.
Level 3 involves major projects that include new all-purpose rooms, athletic fields and related work and new patio covered areas. The total estimated cost for level three is $35 million, with the bulk of that funding six new all-purpose rooms for the elementary schools.
Based on those projections – and assuming other issues such as state aid – the estimated tax impact would be:
- $511.05 per year if all projects are pursued
- $376.17 per year if only level one is pursued
- $134.87 per year if only levels two and three are pursued
- $436.09 per year if all projects are pursued and the district uses capital reserve funds.
If the board decides to use capital reserve funds to offset the tax impact of district improvements, it would still be eligible for debt service, with funds approved annually by the district. The impact on taxpayers also depends on how much the capital reserves are used.
In response to board questions about environmentalism and sustainability, Garrison explained that replacing the HVAC system and/or upgrading lights and bathrooms will allow the district to use less energy for 20 or more years.
During public comments, Cherry Hill East High School student Aiden Rood, an editor of the Eastside student newspaper, pleaded with the board to consider the impact of construction on areas such as Eastside’s unique creative space. Other students requested that the addition of field lights to the East stadium be a higher priority.
The board was leaning toward a one-question referendum, and will work on finalizing applications for board approval at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25.