The Referendum, One Year On

By on March 11, 2015

Construction of the new front entrance to Verona High School will begin this summer.

Construction of the new front entrance to Verona High School will begin this summer.

Today, March 11, is the one-year anniversary of the referendum that Verona voters overwhelmingly approved to make improvements to Verona’s public schools, inside and out. Work on the referendum, which totaled $13.8 million after state aid secured by the Board of Education, started within hours of the ballots being counted, and several aspects of the project have already been completed. But one key component, the turfing of the lower field, has been held up by opponents to the referendum and, we might as well say it from the get-go, the field will not be ready for this September. And yes, the delay is going to cost a lot of money.

Good news first. The wireless network has been installed across the district, which made it possible to already start using the 460 Chromebooks the district bought from its regular operating budget. The Board of Education’s plan is to add to its Chromebook inventory every year and several SCAs are planning to put some of their funds toward the computers, which are being used for the PARCC but, more importantly, for a wide range of new educational programs in classrooms. The new district phone system is complete and the in-classroom phone and intercom system at Verona High School is also done. By the end of March, the security cameras will have been installed in all locations except where new construction is needed, like the vestibule that will be added to the front of Verona High School to improve school security.

ReferendumBasicsNext up are the exterior doors and the emergency generator. According to Superintendent Rui Dionisio, the winning bid for the doors came in well below budget. They are being made now and some of the installation will begin in late May. Dionisio says that all of the doors will be installed by late August. The winning bid for the generator, which is being installed at VHS, was slightly above budget but Dionisio says that contingency funds will cover that. The generator project will be finished before the school year starts.

On Tuesday of this week, bidding opened on several projects: the fire system upgrades at F.N. Brown and Forest Avenue elementary schools; the driveway paving and sidewalks at VHS, HBW, Forest and Brown; and the bleacher upgrades at VHS and Brookdale Avenue school. The new heating system at the high school will go out to bid at the end of this month and bids for the new vestibule at VHS, the music room expansion and masonry repairs at Brookdale will be let in April.

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When the school year is over in June, Verona High School will be completely shut to the public to begin the construction and heating system work. The old boiler, which dates from 1956, must be removed and the asbestos in the system as well. The summer music and theater program that usually takes place at VHS will be moved to H.B. Whitehorne. The access control system will be put into place at VHS and all the schools over the summer.

Opposition to the renovation of the lower field by a handful of residents is forcing the BOE to spend $55,000 on a site plan and delay bidding on the work until January 2016.

Opposition to the renovation of the lower field by a handful of residents is forcing the BOE to spend $55,000 on a site plan and delay bidding on the work until January 2016.

And now for the bad news, the field at VHS. After the referendum passed by a vote of 1,777 to 1,067 last March, a handful of residents on streets abutting the high school began working to derail the field project, which involves turfing Doc Goeltz Field for use by several sports and the marching band. The so-called Be A Good Neighbor Group hired a lawyer, who went before the Verona Planning Board last November and asserted that the field needed a full-blown site plan and not a so-called courtesy review because it did not meet the state definition of a school facility. Greg Mascera, the Planning Board’s attorney, sided with the opponents and told the body several times during the hearing that Verona would not issue building permits to any plan that had not had a full site plan review. At the same meeting, however, the Planning Board approved the referendum’s addition to the Verona High School music room without \ a full site plan review or opposition from Mascera.

The Planning Board’s decision on the field was submitted to the state Department of Education and the Board of Education has been waiting since November for its opinion. The department recently told the BOE that the project has its blessing, but must follow town code, which means that the BOE has had to commission a full site plan for the field work, to be reviewed by review by either the Planning Board or the Board of Adjustment. (UPDATE: The reconstruction and expansion of the VHS tennis courts and parking lot will also be delayed until 2016.)

That site plan will eat up $55,000 of the referendum’s budget and, with the calendars of both boards crowded with other projects, Dionisio now expects that bids on the field work will not be let until January 2016. It is not yet known what other referendum work will be compromised by the extra expense; the BOE will also have to pay from its regular budget for bleacher rentals on the lower field this fall. Barbara Bochese, who was one of the creators of Be A Good Neighbor, is no longer a Verona resident and the registration for the group’s Web site has lapsed.

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The delay rankles Carlo Calabrese, who worked hard to get the referendum passed last year. “I am still appalled by taxpayers who attempt to stop our commitment,” he said this week. “The majority of the voters of our great town want the best for our community. I am embarrassed by the conditions our children, student athletes, educators and administrators must face as our neighbors continue to improve their facilities.” In December, Cedar Grove approved a turfed multipurpose field as part of a $14.8 million referendum, while Caldwell voted to turf Bonnel Field under an $18.2 million referendum.

A rendering of what the lower VHS field might look like under the referendum.

A rendering of what the lower VHS field might look like under the referendum.

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3 Comments

  1. Barbara Bochese

    March 12, 2015 at 8:30 am

    As always, this writer continues to present misinformation.

    First, my moving has absolutely nothing to do with the Be a Good Neighbor Homeowners Association. The BGNHA is alive and well and quite satisfied with our ability as a grass roots, community organization to effectively fight a large developer like the Verona BOE. The optimum word here is DEVELOPER.

    Let’s state the facts objectively, there were more than 1000 people who voted AGAINST the referendum- a referendum that was changed to include the field just a few short weeks before the vote. AND what percentage of the referendum is going to the fix the facilities versus to create a multi-field complex? Need versus want that dramatically changed two weeks after the vote when the Council approved the development of two new turfed fields at the HillTop.

    Any homeowner who lives next to a development has the right to be a part of what happens in their community and neighborhood. The VERY sad reality that the neighbors who lived around the High School learned was that the VBOE believed that they did not have to adhere to any Township zoning regulations like EVERY other homeowner and developer. In other words, they could build whatever they wanted with absolutely no regard to the community or neighbors.

    Yes, we fought and spent a lot of our own money to have a seat at this table and require the VBOE to be good neighbors and citizens. We learned a lot and saw the best in people who listened and respected our rights and position, especially the Verona Town Council and Planning Board. Sadly, we saw the greed and self-serving of those in the sports community and arrogance and irresponsibility of the Verona Board of Education.

    It is very simple, every taxpayer is entitled to be protected against ANY developer by Municipal Land Use Laws and the Town’s Master Plan. The BGNHA will continue to ask for nothing less.

    Why would anyone in Verona not want the VBOE to prepare a site plan, present their plans to the Planning Board and ensure that it meets Land Use Laws and Verona’s Master Plan?

    What should concern the writer of this article is not the $50,000 the VBOE is spending on a site plan but she should look into the actual MILLIONS of DOLLARS of this field budget and the proposed appropriation of those funds. The BGNHA suspects that there is more than a million dollars in “extra” dollars for a wish list of unnecessary options. Wouldn’t that money be best spent actually IN the schools? The field’s budget is part of the “Other Capital Improvements” funds which includes the music room. How about the VBOE take those over-estimated funds and and put them into the music room expansion?

    Those VBOE members who were part of the referendum have done a great disservice to the whole Verona Community by rushing through an ill-conceived field plan project. Never speaking to the neighbors who would have to live NEXT to it. Not everyone in Verona thinks sports, at any cost, first.

    The BGNHA stands firm and is still here whether I live in Verona or not. And I will continue to work with the BGNHA because their position and the needs of the neighborhood is right and just.

    Oh by the way, while this writer quotes Mr. Calabrese in this article. It is my understanding that his home is up for sale.

    Barbara Bochese
    268 Rutgers Place
    Nutley, NJ

  2. Virginia Citrano

    March 12, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Barbara, thank you for your thoughts. It is doubtful that another run-through of the facts will change them, either now or when the makeover of the lower field is completed.

    Best wishes on your new address. Carlo is selling his house but he is not leaving Verona.

  3. Steven Mattia

    April 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    As a long time resident of Verona with two children one who came through the school system and participated as a student athlete and another child who will be attending VHS next year and also will be a participant in athletics. Our facilities for our children at VHS are falling apart and the field aspect of the referendum is much needed. It is a shame we have to waste more money because of some opposition to this project. We travel to other towns who have beautiful multi-use facilities that are not a danger to anyone playing on them. I would like the number of residents who oppose and see if they had children who utilized these fields and ask why they wouldn’t want the same for those children coming up now. I live close enough to VHS to hear the band practicing and the loud speaker from the football games and have no problem it gives Verona it’s charm. So please stop the nonsense and give the students at VHS what is rightfully theirs.

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