Shrewsbury To Vote On $28 Million In School Improvements

first_imgBy John BurtonSHREWSBURY – Borough residents have a lot to consider when they go to the polls next Tuesday to vote on a multi-part, multi-million-dollar referendum for the district’s one school.They will have to actually vote four times on Dec. 13, for what amounts to a total of $28.1 million in 20-year bonds for Shrewsbury Borough School, 20 Obre Place, a pre-K-12 grade facility.“We decided this was the way that makes the most sense,” said Board of Education member Donald Sweeney, in separating the board’s goals in renovating and upgrading the structure.Based upon Question 1 of the referendum, the district is looking to do a $13.4 million upgrade to the school building. That, according to school officials would involve redoing the building’s heating, air conditioning, controls, its electrical system and installing new fire sprinklers; it would also allow the district to install new windows, exterior doors and sensors for security purposes, and replace the roof, which officials said desperately needs to be done. Other areas to be addressed should this portion of the referendum be approved would be to renovate the bathrooms—which have not been worked on in decades—replace lighting fixtures, repair ceilings and replace doors and hardware, as well as looking to bring the entire facility up to current standards under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.Shrewsbury Borough School Superintendent Brent MacConnell and business administrator Debi Avento are working with the Board of Education to advocate for a $28.1 million bond referen- dum coming before Shrewsbury voters on Tuesday, Dec. 13.These efforts, said Brent A. MacConnell, the district superintendent, is “about making the current facility better for learning.”Officials pointed out that this work would qualify for direct state aid, entitling the district to a 40 percent contribution.Question 2, would have the district look to construct an approximately 20,000-square-foot addition. Official noted the first question would have to be approved for the district to move forward with this project. The approximately $11.2 million project would have part of the new construction for a new multipurpose physical education space and accompanying locker rooms, bleacher seating, and establish new business offices and create two flexible meeting and learning spaces. Voter approval would allow for the renovations to the existing cafeteria/auditorium space, converting now-office areas into student services space and a new pre-K classroom, and have additional parking area.The district would be eligible for 10.5 percent in state aid to subsidize this part proposal.Officials said Question 1 would have to be approved for the district to move forward with this proposal. Officials are also hoping that voters will approve Question 4 to help with this project. That part of the referendum would allow the district to purchase 720 Broad St., an adjacent property, authorizing $1.9 million for sale.The state would not help with this acquisition.This added property would help with parking and traffic flow, MacConnell said, given Shrewsbury is a non-busing district and traffic congestion for drop-off and pickup can become heavy.The third question involves using the school’s new roof to be used as home for new solar panels to generate electricity. This roughly $1.6 million project would involve installing 1,276 panels. The project would qualify for 40 percent state aid, and, Sweeney said, would result in paying for itself in eight or nine years.“We also think that it will extend the life of the roof,” MacConnell expected.Sweeney, who also chairs the board’s facility committee, said officials have been analyzing the projects for about a year, conducting a series of strategic planning meetings. Given the district had recently finished paying off a long-term bond, interest rates continue to be low for now, and no one could project the status of state funding in the coming years, the thinking was “It’s kind of the ‘perfect storm’ for doing this,” with factors all coming in alignment.Sweeney stressed that the district’s math was “conservative.” But there is an impact to local property taxes. The local share of the debt service, minus the state’s total $7.1 million contribution, would be $20.9 million. And according to the district’s numbers, that would translate into a 13.94 cents increase per $100 of assessed property value.The district has been conducting a series of public outreach meetings to inform residents about the plan and impact. The last is scheduled for Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m., in the school’s gym.As to the public’s views, MacConnell acknowledged. “There are definitely some folks concerned about taxes. But overall, MacConnell added, “I’m seeing an upswell of support,” from residents.Those views can be seen in the competing lawn signs that have appeared, voicing support or advocating voting no on next Tuesday’s referendum.Homeowner Jim Helprin has concerns with the referendum. “I think they could do things at the school for less.”Helprin, who served on the board of education in the early 2000s, also felt school officials failed to clearly differentiate between what is truly needed—like a new roof—and what would be nice to have—like the addition and new phys ed space. He also believes, given the costs, the district should just proceed and build a new school “that would carry us into the future.”Pam McNeill, is a retired educator (though not in this district), is splitting the difference. She’s decided she’ll vote for Question 1, for the site improvements, and for the solar panels. She realizes some things have to be done to have a safe environment for learning. And “The state aid is crazy to give up,” she maintained. As for the solar panels, that, she said, is a “no-brainer.” “They’re going to pay for themselves,” she stressed.The addition, well, “it’s nice to have additional space,” she said, “but maybe in the future.”Parents Emily Huresky and Maura Galligan are both all in.“It would be a shame to not have this pass,” Huresky said. The roof and other renovations are vitally important but an updated facility is needed as well. “We should do it and do it well and not have to go through this for another, whatever, 10, 20 years,” said Huresky, who has two children in the school.Galligan, who has children in the first, second and third grade, with a fourth child who will attend in a couple of years, said her family moved to Shrewsbury in large part because of the education in the area. However, “When I got to the school I was surprised at how antiquated the facility was,” she said.“This is not just about air conditioning,” she stressed. “it’s about creating a year-round climate that’s appropriate and conducive for learning for children.”Shrewsbury Borough School currently has 492 students enrolled. The main structure was first built in 1956, with an addition built in 1994 and a gym/cafeteria/auditorium constructed in 2004.Residents can vote at their usual polling places, which will be open on Tuesday from 2-9 p.m.last_img