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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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Worn and Torn: Middle Schools Need Much Work

By Al Campbell

COURT HOUSE — Faced with a “laundry list” of “glaring issues,” relating to ongoing maintenance, Middle Township Board of Education is weighing a maintenance referendum.
Discussed at the Nov. 16 board meeting, the referendum would likely not be ready in time for the April 2008 budget election, but may require a special election.
If voters approve the referendum, it would be “almost a seamless integration of debt,” because the debt approved in the 1989 bond is “off the books,” according to Dennis Roberts, board vice president and chair of the Building and Grounds Committee.
Among items that need fixing:
• Replacement of the fire alarm system at the Performing Arts Center.
• New roof on Elementary No. 2, placed in service in the early 1990s.
• New roof on Middle School, needed within the next two years.
• Demolish bus garage near Elementary No. 1 and remediate a fuel leak under ground there.
• Build a new bus garage and maintenance facility.
After parents of elementary school pupils are surveyed concerning need for the pre-kindergarten program, the district could possibly replace the current annex, between Elementary No. 1 and Route 9. The annex was erected as temporary classes, and is “past its useful life,” according to Roberts.
Roberts also mentioned the possibility of using solar panels on the roof of the Middle School, a $3-million project that could be paid over 20 years, and would provide a 20 percent return on the solar energy, he said.
“But we don’t want to go half-cocked,” Roberts said.
“We want to look at this as a community and realize the buildings are getting old. We have to address this in the near future,” he added.
Roberts said the Building and Grounds Committee had met with district Architect Louis DeLosso regarding the maintenance concerns.
“The reason we are looking at a maintenance referendum, if approved, the state will pay 42 percent of the cost, not the taxpayers. If we add it in the budget, 100 percent will come out of local taxes,” Roberts said.
He said if done piecemeal, the maintenance project could take up to 10 years.
“It’s extremely important that we be razor-sharp in definition of priorities,” when it comes to money being spent, added board member Andrew Melchiorre.
The committee was concerned about adding a burden on future generations “with maintenance they can’t sustain,” Roberts added.
He said the committee and board must look “very carefully” at adding space for education needs.
“We are cognizant and do not want to saddle future generations, our children, with unbearable tax burdens,” he added.
Melchiorre said that, aside from needing a new roof, Elementary No. 2 “is a building in good shape.”
“To allow us to save money by not repairing the roof is not wise,” Melchiorre said.
Additionally, “All the work at the high school could be undone if we do not do the proper maintenance,” said Melchiorre.
The district’s “very tight annual budget will continue to be that tight for lots of reasons,” said board member George DeLollis.
“The opportunity to be eligible for 42 percent of state aid is certainly a factor in the timing of this conversation,” DeLollis added.
The roof at the Middle School and Elementary No. 2 as well as the bus garage “issue,” “will be addressed over the next few years,” DeLollis said.
“If they are forced to be addressed in the annual budget, it will take away our opportunity to educate our students.
“If we can’t put this together, and have it approved by the people of this community, it will not only improve the buildings to the extent they need to be, but it will also help improve the quality of education in the district,” DeLollis said.
“We are asking the committee to handle this through the architect, and the next presentation will be to the full board,” said President Calvin back.
Roberts said the needed maintenance “can’t be handled out of routine operating expense.”
Back urged the list of items needing maintenance should not be done “so fast,” but that it could be made available in June or July.
“We cannot put it together for a normal school board election. It will take more time,” Roberts said.
“We want to reach out to members of the community, and also lean on the strategic plan,” said Roberts.
Board member Daniel Money cited his “sense of urgency” because “all are aware of the uncertainty of revenue coming out of the state. We don’t have the continued luxury of time.”
“We need to expedite the discussion and planning process,” Money urged. “I do not mean jumping into anything.”
Once needs are outlined on paper, said Money, the district will be better enabled to discuss with the architect items that need fixing.
Back reminded the members that all meetings should be public, with hope that the public will attend those meetings.
“They should. It will be their tax dollars,” replied Money.
Contact Campbell at (609) 886-8600 Ext 28 or at: al.c@cmcherald.com

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