Township Board of Education officials have pegged the cost of a new junior high school at Matera Field at between $50 million and $53 million.
And, in November, they will be asking voters to approve a $19.2 million referendum to pay for capital improvements at the high school and at its elementary schools.
The township Board of Commissioners voted last Thursday to endorse what they characterized as the “2015 Lyndhurst School Facilities Improvement Program, including the replacement of the [126-year-old] Lincoln School with a new Junior High School ….”
At a special joint meeting of the commission and BOE last week, held at Lincoln School, consultants retained to advise on both projects said that if the referendum passes, $14.7 million would be applied to elementary school work and $4.5 million to upgrades at the high school.
Afterwards, The Observer asked township CFO Robert Benecke to project the local tax impact on property owners. He said the combined tax increase that would be generated by construction of the new junior high and by the improvements authorized by the referendum – assuming passage – would be “modest.”
How modest? Benecke said the tentative estimates were for an increase of between $20 and $30 per month on the “average” house, spread over a period of 20 to 25 years, the time needed to repay the construction debt.
The township has pledged to apply money generated from the eventual sale of the already condemned Lincoln School property – having been designated part of a township redevelopment area – to help offset the debt repayment. Lincoln School, however, will not be torn down until after the new junior high is built – which, according to Benecke, could be within three to 3 1/2 years.
Benecke acknowledged that while the additional school tax is a hardship, property owners should consider that, “the township’s residential property tax base is currently diminished by $60,000 per home because of the conditions of properties along Ridge Road and Valley Brook Ave.”
Upgrading local schools while opening opportunities for commercial development can only be a trigger for raising property values, he said.
Benecke credited the present BOE leadership with committing to the school improvement plan which, he said, will ultimately “increase educational opportunities for the children.”
The following improvements would be financed by the referendum:
• Columbus School would get a new three-story addition housing a new gym and four additional classrooms plus an outdoor amphitheater.
• Washington, Franklin, Roosevelt and Jefferson Schools would each get new multi-purpose rooms to be used for instructional purposes. Roosevelt could also use its multi-purpose space as a gym and/or lunchroom and will also get a reading garden.
• “A majority” of the elementary schools are also slated to be equipped with elevators that would ride up and down within an enclosed structure to be constructed outside the school building.
Mayor Robert Giangeruso said he was “definitely for the project” as did BOE President Christopher Musto who said that the full board was “absolutely in favor – words can’t express how excited we are. … Lincoln School has been here since 1888 and I don’t want to see it go on much longer.”