With the budget season in Montclair comes the discussion of what capital projects the schools hope to tackle over the coming months.
The district is hoping to address a list of projects that has been in a holding pattern for at least the past year, including a few projects to address issues that have had parents concerned.
At a Board of School Estimate meeting on March 16, Watchung School parent Selma Avdicevic appealed to the district to go ahead with several scheduled capital improvements, including an overhaul of the air conditioning and ventilation system in the elementary school’s auditorium.
Avdicevic said during a follow-up phone interview last week that the auditorium has had long-running issues of air exhaust and ventilation. “That building is like a sauna most days,” she said.
She noted that the Watchung auditorium is in use for almost the entire school day, as a teaching space and as a pick-up/drop-off point. On hot days, the school has to run fans at full blast, she said. Because the fans are circulating air in from outside, children who suffer from allergies are at risk of having asthma attacks on those days. Avdicevic also claimed that in the most severe cases, there have been instances of children fainting or throwing up because of the heat.
“It would be nice for kids not to be fainting and for our electricity to be wired properly,” she said.
She said that the issues at Watchung are common in other school buildings throughout the district
The onus of making sure that the auditorium is renovated should be on the district, Avdicevic said. “We don’t want to fall into the trap of parents having to take responsibility for this.”
Last year, the district came up with a list of capital improvement projects at different buildings and facilities, totaling at about $14 million.
Board of Education President Jessica de Koninck said that projects that involve health and safety issues are given a higher spot on the list. The Board of School Estimate will have a separate meeting to discuss capital projects once a decision is made about the budget, she said.
Interim Business Administrator Steven DiGeronimo said Monday that at the time the list was compiled, the township was involved with discussions over its debt service, and he himself had just come in as the interim business administrator, among other complications. As a result, the projects on the list were placed on standby.
However, DiGeronimo said, the township has identified about $4.2 million in priority projects. “The district needs to have the capital to get things done,” he said.
The usual process is to come up with a list of projects, present it to the Board of School Estimate, whittle the list down to the most crucial projects and bring it back before the Board of School Estimate, at which time the district and the township come up with a dollar amount for the projects.
Regarding the Watchung auditorium in particular, DiGeronimo said the cost of repairing the HVAC had been given a preliminary estimate of $490,000. Other priority projects on the list include a resurfacing of the field at Fortunato Field, and an overhaul of the track at Woodman Field.
He said that Watchung will be addressed, along with other needs in the district, when the district has its next meeting with the township. Additionally, he said, the district hopes to hire a buildings and grounds staffer who will be in charge of construction issues.
He has also been having discussions with Padmaja Rao, the township’s chief finance officer.
The next Board of School Estimate meeting was expected to take place today, March 30, and it was hoped that a decision would be made about the budget at that time.