Montclair school board’s $188 million capital improvement plan moves forward
The Montclair Board of Education’s proposal for a $188 million capital improvement plan to repair and upgrade district facilities is moving on to its next steps, after the board voted unanimously in its favor on Wednesday, April 8.
The plan will go to voters in November.
A previous draft of the proposal, presented at the March 28 board meeting, showed a slightly higher total of $190 million. In the most recent proposal, some projects saw decreases in funding, with technology upgrades going from $11 million to $7.4 million, athletic facilities and playgrounds going from $16.5 million to $14.4 million, special education going from $3.5 million to $2.8 million and HVAC going from $77 million to $76.6 million.
But other projects received additional funding: Science and classroom upgrades increased from $24.5 million to $26.8 million, practical and performing arts from $21 million to $23.2 million and gymnasiums from $8 million to $8.4 million.
The changes from the previous plan were the result of community feedback, Eric Scherzer, the board’s finance and facilities committee chair, told Montclair Local Thursday.
“There are things in this [proposal] that reasonable people might have decided differently on,” Scherzer said at the Wednesday meeting. “We made our best decisions, and we are asking the community to support this proposal.”
With the board’s approval, Parette Somjen Architects will now prepare applications to submit to the state Department of Education by May 5, when applications for the bond projects must be submitted in order to place a question on the November ballot. The state then has 60 days to respond, telling the district how much debt service relief it will provide, totaling between 28% and 34% of all expenses, Scherzer said Wednesday.
The proposal includes work at 15 district facilities, including schools, the administration building and the Aubrey Lewis Sports Complex. The projects and funds are intentionally not divided evenly among facilities, although “equitable allocation” is a central tenet of the proposal, Scherzer said. Repairs and upgrades will be done where they are needed most, with larger portions of funding going toward older buildings in the district, he said.
The present-day Montclair High School was built in 1915, according to “Montclair 1868-1993: A Goodly Heritage,” by David Nelson and Mary Travis Arny. Hillside was built in 1909, and Glenfield in 1896, according to the book.
The school that would receive the most proposed funding — $57.7 million — is Montclair High School. This total includes funding for upgrades at the main building and the George Inness Annex, including new HVAC systems, boilers, a renovated auditorium and updated science classrooms and maker spacers.
The school with the second-highest funding is Hillside School, with $25.5 million going toward roof repairs, a new library, stair replacements and more. Third-highest is Glenfield Middle School, with $24.7 million for arts room renovations, gym floor replacement, science lab renovations and more.
“What the community should understand about this is we are addressing the issue of equity,” Scherzer said at the Wednesday meeting. “Those [the high school, Hillside and Glenfield] are among our oldest buildings and the buildings that have not been best taken care of in the past.”
The school receiving the least funding is the newest in the district — Charles H. Bullock School, built in 2010, is allocated $785,835 in the proposal for a new greenhouse, new surfacing on the play area and updated classroom technology.
The proposal is separated into two categories, infrastructure and educational enhancements, and broken up into 11 project types.
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 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.
The plan is to bond in three parts over five years, Scherzer said at the March 28 meeting. 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.
Using current interest rates and assuming an average level of state reimbursement, the owner of a home with the average assessment would pay an estimated $320 more per year for the first bond, Scherzer said at the March 28 meeting. In the third year, when another bond is issued, the homeowner would pay an additional estimated $275. Another estimated $275 would be added in the fifth year. Each bond would be paid over a 20-year period.
The estimated costs for taxpayers have yet to be recalculated with the lower proposed total, but they will likely be proportional to the decrease in cost, Scherzer told Montclair Local Thursday.
The proposal, nicknamed the “community investment plan,” is the fiscally responsible thing to do, PTA Council President Tessie Thomas said at the Wednesday board meeting. The district is paying $344,000 each year just for the upkeep of its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, Scherzer said Wednesday.
Thomas said, “Continued under-investment, or doing nothing, or doing it incrementally, leaves us on borrowed time, where things could drastically go wrong. Students, teachers and staff in a safer, healthier and cleaner environment will do a lot better. It will be good to not be distracted by structural concerns or air quality concerns.”
A form to submit questions about the referendum is available on the district website, and answers will be posted there as well, Scherzer said.