Like the vast majority of voting residents of the Chathams this year, I voted No to the $24.8 million referendum for capital upgrades to our schools. I especially opposed spending $10.8 million for a new performing arts facility at Chatham Middle School.
But renovations to the 1958 auditorium at CMS are clearly needed. If the Board of Education recommends the expenditure of $3.8 million for the project (which is 65 percent less than originally proposed), I will undoubtedly support it. It would be a fiscally prudent compromise to benefit our students and our community. With these funds, the asbestos flooring would be removed, the old roofing would be replaced to avoid potential issues in the near future, a new HVAC system would make the facility a comfortable four-season performance facility and handle the air quality during assemblies and performances. Students and adults with disabilities would gain improved access to performance and technical spaces and specified seating, the crude sound and lighting system would receive a long-overdue upgrade, and the shabby, torn and stained seating and wall coverings would be replaced.
One additional note on the asbestos flooring: Because of its age and wear-and-tear, each year recently the district has had to replace portions of it because of chipping and pieces being dislodged, which concerns me because that is what could potentially put asbestos into the air as time goes on.
The $3.8 million budget would provide for the replacement of the asbestos flooring with safe, modern materials. I believe these are the key reasons why 67 percent of the nearly 1,300 Chatham residents who responded to the recent Board of Education Survey opted for the $3.8 million upgrade option.
The CMS Auditorium’s overall structural space and acoustics were designed quite well back 1958 – it has “good bones.” That is a key reason why the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey (which recently affiliated with The Adult School of the Chathams, Madison and Florham Park) decided to hold its 2015-2016 concerts at the CMS Auditorium, rather than in Millburn.
The Adult School was already being hosted by CMS, so it’s logical for the affiliated orchestra to perform there too. Importantly, the Orchestra’s website cites the “state of the art CMS band room” as another reason why it is relocating. The band room was renovated in the 1980s and won’t be touched by new spending. That investment has yielded an enormous benefit to our students, supporting the outstanding quality of our district’s award-winning band program. That renovation has even helped draw a community orchestra to our town. This is a case-in-point of why we must continue to invest in the critical physical spaces that our students use, especially main facilities like the CMS Auditorium that ALL students use.
A compromise investment of $3.8 million to bring the CMS Auditorium up to the times, and to the safety of the times, would be a very sensible proposal by the Board of Education. As a staunch fiscal conservative, I would support it.