Board Of Ed Gets More Referendum Details

By on November 29, 2013

VHS-Electronic-SignThe Verona Board of Education met for almost three hours on Tuesday night and Board members finally got some much needed details on the referendum planned for next year. As things stand now, the vote will be next March 11 and the total tab will be $16,950,924.

When the Board last met on the referendum on October 22, there were many unanswered questions. The projects’s architect, Mylan Associates of Verona, seemed unable to answer basic questions about the security system that would be put in place and did not offer and building-by-building and project-by-project breakout of the work to be done. (You can watch the video of that meeting here.)

Referendum-By-SchoolBut, under the direction of Board President John Quattrocchi, Mylan delivered a nearly complete presentation, from the general timeline that we need to follow to how much will be spent and where. We learned that 97 school doors district-wide will be equipped with security cameras and that 34 of those doors will have swipe card controls as well. Total spending on security: $995,000.

Where most of the work done in the 2005 referendum happened on the elementary schools and H.B. Whitehorne, this time the focus and spending–$7,873,045 in all–will be at Verona High School. VHS needs a near total rehab of its heating and cooling system: The boilers are more than 30 years old and the air handler in the old gym dates from when the school was built in 1956. There’s also going to be another addition to the music room (at a cost of $1,551,417), and the upper field must be completely redone. We learned in May that it would cost $1.9 million to compact the failing fill on Sellitto Field; with bleachers, lighting and turf striped for four sports, the cost of that project now stands at $5,416,226.

Referndum-by-ProjectThat seemed to cause some consternation for Steve Spardel, who was reappointed to the BOE earlier this month. Spardel, who seemed unaware of the May recommendations on the field, repeatedly asked fellow BOE members if Verona could not “just walk away” from it. “Four million dollars to recover four acres? It will be the most expensive football field in New Jersey,” he said at one point. (It would not be: the new Schools Stadium in Newark cost a reported $24 million.)

“You’re talking about walking away from something that we’ve been told that we can’t walk away from,” BOE member Joe Bellino admonished Spardel, the frustration visible on his face. But Spardel was undeterred, even asking Superintendent Steve Forte for the cost of turning the lower field into a multi-sports complex. “I would definitely do $6 million down there,” Spardel said. There is no work contemplated on Doc Goeltz Field in the current plan.

And even if Verona voters do approve this referendum, Quattrocchi made it clear that it will not be our last. The 2005 referendum identified $67 million in needed repairs, but the BOE went to voters for only $33 million and more problems, like the football field, have cropped up since then. You read the full PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday’s meeting here, or watch the video below.


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6 Comments

  1. Michele

    December 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Virginia – Is it planned that it will be one vote for all the work? As we’ve seen in the past, lumping this all together could get the vote shot down. I think there are priorities on that list but I’m not sure that a $5 million field among some other things are at the top of the list for all. Safety and security far outweigh that for me. “Must haves” should be separated from “Would be nice to have” for this.

  2. Virginia Citrano

    December 1, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    One vote for everything Michele. Some aspects of the plan will likely be viewed as important by everyone–like heating and light at VHS. Some parents might wish to spend money differently, saying putting $5.4 million into STEM education instead of sports. But sports is very key to other parents and, what’s more, this sports spending is not something that the rest of us can ignore: We can wish all we want that the Verona Board of Ed of the 1970s had not landfilled the upper field the way they did, but it is now our responsibility to fix it. The BOE has made it very clear in every meeting on the upper field that the state will not let us simply put a chain link fence around the field and forget it. It has to be remediated.

    We can ask, as John Quattrocchi did in the last meeting, for a detailed breakdown of the spending on the field. You might remember that, when the remediation scenarios were presented, the cost of tamping the field down and capping it with topsoil–the middle ground of the three options–was $1.9 million. The referendum is adding turf, lights, and bleachers. Is there a way to do that without spending $3.5 million? One would think so.

    And remember that this cost is going to be spread out over 30 years. Right now, the borrowing costs for an entity as creditworthy as Verona are very low: I ran some calculations on the annual debt service of a $16.9 million referendum and it could be about $46 per household per year. We have spent $25,000 in each of the last two football seasons to rent bleachers for the lower field, and we have nothing lasting to show for that spending.

  3. Anne

    December 4, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I noticed large sums of money being allocated to all the schools, except Laning Avenue. What are all the other schools getting that Laning is not, and why is there such a big disparity in the allocations?

  4. Virginia Citrano

    December 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    It’s not an allocation Anne. Evaluations of all six schools were done by the schools’ facilities director and the architectural firm managing the project. In the 2005 referendum, Laning had the most work done it of all the elementary schools, so it needed relatively little work now. VHS had very little work done on it in the 2005 referendum, even though there were many known issues at the high school at that time.

    The Board of Ed has posted a PowerPoint of the work that could be done under a new referendum, and you can view it here: http://veronaschools.org/cms/lib02/NJ01001379/Centricity/Domain/1/ReferendumPresentation11262013.pdf . The specific information for Laning is on page 21.

  5. Cameron Barrett

    December 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Didn’t I read somewhere that the average cost of building a new school is about $25 million? If that’s the case, why shouldn’t we demolish the old high school, level the sports field and build a new, modern high school. I think a lot of us would prefer our taxpayer dollars to be spent on new construction rather than dumping it into a hole in the ground just so a small percentage of our kids can play sports.

  6. Virginia Citrano

    December 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Cameron, that statistic seems very close to one I mentioned on slide 5 of a piece I did about the referendum a few weeks back: http://www.myveronanj.com/2013/10/30/5-questions-school-referendum/5/

    But the figures there are for construction only–not land, demolition or, in the case of the upper field, remediation. We may not like the mess we have on the upper field, but the state will not let us lock the door and throw away the key on it. We have to fix it.

    And as for the issue of how many kids would use the field, please keep in mind that the proposal calls for it to be striped for four sports: football, soccer, lacrosse and field hockey (we don’t have that now, but we used to). The field would also be used as a practice venue for the band during marching band season instead of the parking lot. If you add the participation in those three sports and the kids in band and color guard, you’d probably come up with 85% of the kids in VHS.

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