Schools Chief Talks Building Needs At Referendum Meeting

By on January 15, 2014
A crumbling ceiling at VHS. Building repairs are the largest component of the proposed referendum, at $5.4 million.

A crumbling ceiling at VHS. Building repairs are the largest component of the proposed referendum, at $5.4 million.

Steve Forte had an audience of parents from every extra-curricular activity in Verona at last night’s meeting on the referendum, but he made it clear from his opening words that the referendum is not, repeat not, just about sports facilities.

It’s about doors that can’t shut bad guys out and boilers that can’t keep buildings warm. “We’ve had days lately where the inside temperature has been hovering around 60 and we’ve had to consider shutting areas of the building,” the Verona public schools superintendent said of Verona High School. “You’re going have a hard time paying attention when you have mittens on.”

Forte reiterated to the audience points that he has made at every one of the many Board of Education meetings on the referendum: VHS needs to completely overhaul its heating system, which dates to when the building was opened in 1956. That means new boilers, controls and piping, for a total cost of $3,855,280.

Referendum-Spending-ForteBut that is not the largest area of proposed spending in the referendum, whose details must be finalized by January 28 so it can be put to a vote in March. Every one of Verona’s six schools needs repairs to fix to prosaic things like masonry and paving and doors. Total cost: $5,375,288.

There are new security systems that will make it easier for schools to see who is coming in and going out, and places for visitors to wait while school officials decide whether to let them in. “None of this is outlandish,” Forte said of the security system, “there are 39 other districts trying to implement this right now.” Total cost: $890,514.

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Then Forte turned to what he called “the hard part”: Building a consensus around the fields at VHS. He quickly dispatched any notion that the fields are only for football. Forte’s plan for the upper field would have it turfed for use by lacrosse, soccer, marching band and football. This plan, which Forte dubbed Option 1, also includes rebuilding and expanding the tennis courts and adding 30 parking spaces. (The tennis courts need to be redone because they were created on the same problem fill as the upper field.) Total cost: $4,481,960.

Option 2 would give more options to more activities. It would remediate the environmental issues on the upper field so it could be used for phys ed classes and practices, then turf the lower field for usage by lacrosse, soccer, baseball, softball, football, and the band. Like Option 1, it would also rebuild and expand the tennis courts and adding 30 parking spaces. Total cost: $5,181,960.

There was also an Option 3, which would only remediate the upper field for phys ed classes and practices, and fix the tennis courts. Everything else would be put off for a later date. Forte didn’t provide a cost estimate on this option.

Priced to include Option 2, the gross cost of the referendum now stands at $16,189,428. But Verona has received a so-called ROD grant from the state for $3,564,402 because of the building repairs we need. That lowers the cost of the cost of the referendum to taxpayers to $12,625,026 or an average cost of $164.60 per household per year.

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But Forte cautioned the audience that if the referendum fails to pass, Verona would lose the ROD grant money. “In a town like Verona, you don’t have a lot of chances of getting money back,” said Forte. “We send $30 million to Trenton in income tax, and we get back about $1.6 million. Here’s your chance to get some of that [the school repairs] done with somebody else’s money.”

Forte distributed a survey at the meeting to gauge people’s interest in the field options. You can take an online version of that poll here, and read the entire presentation here.

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