State Department of Education to Pick Up 40% of Tab

BELMAR, NJ — Belmar voters will decide whether to fund $9.7 million in major improvements to Belmar Elementary School in a special referendum election on March 10, 2020.

If approved, the state Department of Education (DOE) will pick up 40 percent of the cost — a major reason why the Belmar Board of Education last night officially set the date for the vote. If the referendum is not approved, the school district would be on the hook for the entire tab or be forced to proceed with projects piecemeal, using capital reserve funds, according to school officials.

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DOE recently informed the Belmar school district that it is eligible to receive the 40 percent reimbursement through annual debt service aid for four major projects to be outlined in the bond referendum:

  • $1.5 million in upgrades to the auditorium, including new seating, flooring, light, sound and projection equipment and a wheelchair lift to the stage.
  • $6.6 million in HVAC improvements, including installing all new ventilators and control system, and upgrading the electrical system.
  • $1.1 million for replacing floors in all classrooms and hallways, building new stairway landings and removing asbestos.
  • $500,000 for replacing windows to improve energy efficiency.

In recent years, the school has made a variety of capital improvements to maintain building standards at the 110-year-old school. It is now time to tackle these remaining larger projects — and the timing couldn’t be better, said Steven Siegel, a principal in Spiezle Architectural Group, at the school board’s November 21 meeting.

In addition to receiving 40 percent back from the state — nearly $3.9 million of the total $9.7 million over 20 years — interest rates are low, the district is retiring debt from previous bond issues, and bundling all four projects will result in cost-savings across the entire timetable, he said.

As a result, the bond issue’s impact on taxpayers would be minimal, translating into a $60 annual increase in school taxes on a home assessed at $554,645, Siegel said.

If approved, the auditorium renovations would be slated for June through October 2020, with the HVAC and other related work being done the following year during summer break.

The school board plans to launch a public awareness campaign on the referendum shortly after the holiday season.

The last school referendum for renovations to Belmar Elementary School was approved in 2003. Totaling $5.6 million, the state also provided 40 percent of the funding, bringing down the school district’s cost to $3.37 million.

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