Board Of Ed Approves Referendum, Goes To Voters March 11

By on February 13, 2014

A heat pipe broke at VHS a few days ago, spreading the rusty water on a floor. The referendum would replace the high school's heating and ventilation system, which is original to the 58-year-old building.

A heat pipe broke at VHS a few days ago, spreading the rusty water on a floor. The referendum would replace the high school’s heating and ventilation system, which is original to the 58-year-old building.

After more than a year of planning, the Verona Board of Education approved a referendum to make critical repairs to Verona’s public schools at its Tuesday night meeting. The BOE secured two types of state aid for the project, so the total cost for the average house works out to $176.75 per year–or 48 cents per day. The referendum will be put to Verona voters on March 11.

The largest component of the project, at $5,314,431, is general repairs to all six Verona schools. The district needs to replace exterior doors, some of which are so worn that they offer little barrier against the outside world, and re-attach facades to buildings. The funds will also go for paving, fire alarms, hall and classroom, ceilings and lighting, and crumbling bleachers at VHS and Brookdale. The VHS music room will be expanded slightly to accommodate the high school’s largest single activity.

The second largest project is the complete replacement of the heating and ventilation system at VHS, for $3,852,580. The current system is original to the building, which was dedicated in 1956. The spending would install new boilers, controls, vents and piping. A heat pipe broke at VHS a few days ago, spreading the rusty water on a floor that you can see in the photo above.

ReferendumBasicsThe referendum earmarks a total of $1,779,600 to two things that have become critical to modern schools: technology and security. Verona has not upgraded its technology backbone in a decade, and the schools have nearly constant problems with email and phones. The $889,086 technology spend would install new wired and wireless (Wi-Fi) networks district-wide, new switches and cabling, upgrade the phone system and create backups for technology and power. The $890,514 for security would buy new vestibules and visitor control at five schools (Laning’s was done in the last referendum), an expandable security camera system, swipe-card entry system and door locks and would reinforce window glass district-wide.

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A total of $1,888,250 will be spent to remediate environmental problems at VHS caused by a poorly executed expansion of the upper football field in the late 1970s. The BOE abandoned plans to compact the field with a heavy weight, which could have damaged the foundation of VHS and the surrounding houses. Instead, the referendum would provide funds to build a retaining wall and create a so-called cap on the upper field, which would then be used for practice and physical ed only. The BOE’s investigation of Thomas J. Sellitto field last year showed that inappropriate, but not toxic, landfill had also been used by the parking lot and tennis courts. To remediate that, the referendum would put a cap in that area, adding parking and a fifth tennis court. The section of the field that cannot be fixed would be landscaped and fenced, ironically returning the field to roughly the size it was before the expansion.

Because the upper field cannot be used again for sports, the referendum would spend $3,806,994 to turn the lower field into a turfed multipurpose complex that could accommodate high school baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and football games, as well as practices for the marching band, which now rehearses on the VHS parking lot. The field would have new lights, bleachers and fencing, and the existing concrete bleachers in the northeast corner of Doc Goeltz field would be repaired.

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“This is what we decided to do,” said BOE member Joseph Bellino. “There’s nothing on this list that isn’t absolutely necessary, and that includes our athletic fields.”

To reduce the $16,641,855 total cost of the work, the BOE has won two important pieces of state aid. The first is a $2,796,855 grant from the Department of Education’s Regular Operating District (ROD) program. That cuts the referendum’s cost to Verona taxpayers to $13,845,000. Verona also qualified for state debt service aid of $2,402,789. Unlike the grant, which is awarded upfront and does not have to be repaid, the debt service aid is parsed out at the rate of $170,320 per year.

Superintendent Steven A. Forte will be holding four meetings to answer voters’ questions about the referendum. They will be Sunday, February 23, at 5 p.m. in the VHS auditorium; Wednesday, February 26, at 9 a.m. in the F.N. Brown auditorium; Saturday, March 1, at 10 a.m. in the Laning School Media Center; and Wednesday, March 5, at 7 p.m. in the H.B. Whitehorne auditorium. The March 1 meeting will be held at the same time as Kindergarten orientation so that new school families can be briefed on the plans, but all voters are invited to all meetings.

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