FAIR LAWN, NJ – The $25 million expansion of Thomas Jefferson and Memorial Middle Schools broke ground Wednesday morning, June 12.
Board of Education members and school officials – which included the two schools’ principals – donned hard hats while they stuck the first shovels in the ground outside Thomas Jefferson Middle School under sunny skies.
“I can’t thank the parents enough for passing the referendum,” Superintendent Nick Norcia said. “It speaks volumes for what’s important to this town, and that’s education. We read story after story about schools closing down and enrollment decreasing. That’s not happening here in Fair Lawn. What’s happening in Fair Lawn is we are investing in our community; our education is getting better and better every day. People are moving to this community because it’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a great place to have your children educated. And that ‘yes’ vote symbolized that.
Borough taxpayers passed a referendum in March calling for the expansion of its middle schools to accommodate the fifth-grade moving up from the six elementary schools by a 2,241-1,458 vote. The idea was proposed by then-interim superintendent Ernest Palestis as a solution to the longstanding overcrowding crisis at the district’s six elementary schools and two middle schools. According to two experts, in the last five years, the district has seen roughly 100 new students per year, a trend they predict will continue in the next five, yielding 500 new students in 2024.
Epic Construction plans to complete the annexes by fall 2020.
In Thomas Jefferson on Morlot Avenue, $11.9 million in improvements will add 14 new classrooms and a “cafetorium” or multi-purpose room, for the fifth-grade. Kitchen upgrades and new elevators to link the two-story buildings are also included in the renovation plan.
Roughly $11.4 million of improvements will add nine new classrooms to Memorial Middle School on 1st Street; the media center will be expanded by 3,000 square feet.
At an approximate cost of $600,000, both middle schools and the high school will receive air conditioning.
The schools will have state-of-the-art STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math] labs in line with 21st century technology, and most importantly, more space for students.
Trustees passed a $113.4 million school budget in April. Of the monthly increase of $15.98 on this year’s tax bill on the average home assessed at $327,486, roughly $7 is going towards the referendum. The board received $3.8 million in debt service aid from the state for the project, which drove down the tax impact down about $20 from $124.55 to roughly $105.
While a 3-4 percent interest rate is being projected over a 25-year payoff period, this figure will be confirmed when the bonds are sold in July, according to Board Secretary Brooke Bartley.
After thanking the district staff and administration for their assistance with the project, Norcia gave a shout-out to his predecessor Palestis whom he thanked for the time he put in to getting the referendum passed. During more than a dozen referendum meetings that commenced in the summer of 2017 and went till the week before the referendum, Palestis had emphasized the urgent need for the project, stating there was “no Plan B.”
“Hopefully, we are confident this should alleviate the overcrowding situation that we face here in Fair Lawn,” Norcia said.
In photo (L to R): Epic Management Project Executive Bill Morris, MMS Principal Scott Helfand, TJMS Principal Mike Weaver, BOE Trustee Mark Spindel, BOE Trustee Cindy Quackenbush, BOE President Ron Barbarulo, Superintendent Nick Norcia, Business Administrator Brooke Bartley, BOE Vice President Elyss Frenkel, BOE Trustee Mary Wallace, BOE Trustee Dr. Emily Cohen, BOE Trustee Mike Rosenberg, LAN Associates' Vice President Steve Secora, Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Camille DeFranco, Assistant Superintendent of Education Dr. Natalie Lacatena, and Director of Human Resources Lisa Panagia.