Montclair school board expects to hear from state soon about bond reimbursement
The Montclair Board of Education expects to hear back from the state this week about what percentage of a proposed $188 million capital improvement plan to repair and upgrade district facilities will be eligible for reimbursement.
The proposal includes work at 15 district facilities, including schools, the administration building and the Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex, with work separated into two categories, infrastructure and educational enhancements, and broken up into 11 project types.
Parette Somjen Architects prepared 25 applications to submit to the state Department of Education for the district’s proposal, Eric Scherzer, the board’s finance and facilities committee chair, said at the May 4 board meeting.
The applications were due to the state May 5 in order to place the $188 million referendum question on the November ballot. If the community votes in support of the referendum question, Parette Somjen Architects will then draw up plans, the district will begin seeking bids for services, and construction would be expected to be underway by summer 2023, Scherzer said.
The district received reports that its applications to the state were received and some minor questions were sent to the architects, Scherzer said at a July 25 meeting.
“The Department of Education has been slightly delayed in asking their final questions, hopefully not in sending their preliminary approvals to the board,” he said.
The preliminary approvals, stating what percentage of the cost of each project will be reimbursed by the state, are expected by Friday, Aug. 5, Scherzer said July 25. The state is expected to cover between 28% and 38% of the cost of the bond, he said.
“This is a critical opportunity that will reduce the cost of the long-term facilities plan to taxpayers by approximately a third,” he said.
Once the district knows the level of reimbursement from the state, it will revisit the proposed projects before filing with Essex County for a bond vote in November.
“During the month of August we'll have some critical decisions to make,” Scherzer said at the May 4 meeting.
The plan is to bond in three parts over five years. Under the previous proposed total — $190 million — the tax impact to the owner of a home assessed at the township average of $628,000 would pay an estimated $320 increase in taxes the first year, rising to $870 per year by the fifth year.
Once the reimbursement information is handed down by the state, the board will provide “educational information” about the bond to the Montclair community, Scherzer said.
“I've heard that there are efforts underway in the community to support the passage of the bond, but that's an effort that the board, as a public body, cannot undertake on its own,” he said. “The board as a body can educate but not advocate.”
Speaking on behalf of himself and not the board, Scherzer said he “strongly” encouraged community members in support of the bond “to speedily get themselves together and begin the advocacy work that will support it.”
HVAC upgrades are planned for 13 of the district’s 15 facilities, with the largest upgrade for Montclair High School’s main building and the George Inness Annex, totaling almost $28.5 million. Eight schools would receive new boilers and electrical service upgrades.
Roof replacements and smaller repairs, including wood trim replacement and masonry work, are planned at eight facilities, but Hillside School’s repair budget is the largest — almost $5.4 million for roof replacement and masonry repairs.
Other infrastructure repairs and upgrades are planned for 10 facilities. This category covers a wide range of projects, including stair replacement at Buzz Aldrin Middle School, new security cameras at MHS and a nurse room renovation at Watchung School.
Upgrades for the practical and performing arts would be made at six schools, but the majority are planned for the high school, with a new auditorium and renovations to the culinary and industrial arts classrooms included in the plans.
Six gymnasiums would undergo renovations, including an entire new gym for Renaissance at Rand Middle School.
Science and classroom upgrades, the second-largest category, would happen at eight schools, including science lab renovations at Glenfield Middle School, a library renovation at Hillside School and furniture upgrades at Renaissance.
Technology upgrades would be completed at every single school in the district, including wireless projectors and interactive display boards. Montclair High School would get a TV studio renovation and Bullock School a greenhouse renovation.
Special education upgrades are planned at four schools: Glenfield, Hillside, Nishuane and Watchung. The largest project, at $1.2 million, is a special education suite at Glenfield.
The proposed athletic facility upgrades at Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex include new turf for the football and baseball fields and a new grandstand. Bradford, Hillside, Nishuane and Northeast schools would all get new playgrounds.
Information about the proposal, including a question-and-answer document, is posted to the district’s website.