NUTLEY, NJ - The fifth in a series of town hall meetings hosted by Nutley Public Schools and the Nutley Board of Education gave residents the opportunity to express support, ask hard questions, and challenge school leadership in what was the longest of these meetings.
A standing room only crowd packed the Media Center at Radcliffe Elementary February 8 town hall meeting. Prior to the start of the presentation, a handful of citizens mingled with Board of Education members and discussed the construction plans on view. [Read: School Construction Concept Viewing at Radcliffe School ]
Superintendent Glazer opened the Town Hall presentation reiterating that the construction concepts are ‘works in progress’ and the district continues looking for input because “you are who knows this community best”.
According to the BOE, the proposed plans are the ‘best solutions’ to address overcrowding and enhance academic rigor for enrolled students and an expected 500 incoming students projected in the next 5 years. Glazer explained to numerous Radcliffe parents and staff in attendance; while no construction is proposed at Radcliff for the current referendum, one of the benefits will be that at least two classrooms will be freed up by moving the sixth graders to the Middle School.
The ‘shoulder to shoulder’ attendees were informed that in addition to lack of classrooms, the district is also dealing with diminished ‘rug space’ and lack of ‘collaborative space’ in existing classrooms, that is impacting academic performance.
“The Time is now. The students are here. If we continue to ‘wait and see’, this will have an effect on our educational reputation and the future of Nutley.” Dr. Julie Glazer
What was eliminated to get to the 68 Million?
To date, over 30 options and sub-options have been presented to the Board of Education.
DiCara said “We eliminated certain renovations at the Middle School. Initially we had a larger multi-purpose room, a full size gym, locker rooms, and a stage. When we were creeping up to $100M we had to go back and look at what we could eliminate without sacrificing capacity. If you eliminate square footage you eliminate dollars.”
The Middle School plan now includes, in addition to the existing gym, a middle school gym: a half-court with changing rooms, which according to the architect is ‘saving a considerable amount of money’.
In addition, DiCara said the Township of Nutley purchased the ‘bike shop’ property which will allow delivery access to the new cafeteria and kitchen from Franklin Ave.
At the High School some of the originally proposed classrooms were eliminated. New PE space was created as well as a new media center at the front of the building.
What other options were explored and can be explored? Can the cost be reduced to less than 68M?
Carnicella explained ‘Originally we were over $96M and looking at 30 years and beyond in sustainability. We realized that was not a palatable number and started pulling back. What are the most important pieces that we need? How do we give relief to some of the elementary schools? The first thought was if we expand Middle School we achieve two things: 1. Relieve the building space pressure on the elementary schools and eliminate the trailers at Washington and Yantacaw 2. We get a true middle school model that better prepares students for high school.
What will stop the district from preventing this (overcrowding) from happening again later on?
Carnicella answered ‘Yantacaw and Washington trailers were added because we had a dynamic increase in enrollment that happened from August to the beginning of September. We did spend money to get those modulars in place for instruction. Trailers were put in place because district was unable to build fast enough to ensure there was proper space for the current students.’
DiCara added ‘If something happens in 30 years, the district could add-on. Columns being used [in the proposed construction plan] could support an additional level at the high school in the future if needed.’
Carnicella stated ‘If we take the shrinking school method, the way instruction is delivered, it’s possible we could be back here in 20 years. We can’t plan for only 5 or 10 years of sustainability. The mantra has been, every 5 or 6 years we have another project. People don’t want us to keep coming back.’
“We have an opportunity right now to get ahead of what we have constantly been behind.” Carnicella added.
What is the Construction Timeline?
Superintendent Glazer replied “By September 2020, 100% Completion of all construction”
DiCara added: ‘What you want to do with occupied building is capture as many summers as possible for construction.’ According to the architect, work for the summer of 2018 for all facilities will include earth moving, foundations, concrete work and possibly steel work. During the rest of the year, construction will include super structure and brick work on the exteriors and enclosure.
He said, “If you don’t reach ‘enclosure’ by winter, the project stops.” The tie-ins will happen during the last summer. The plan is to be complete the Middle School before the summer of 2020 to allow the district to move in before Sept 1st.
How are the contractors chosen?
The district will abide by the public bidding laws – [low bid contract award] of the state of New Jersey. DiCara said, “I don’t agree with it but I’ve been doing this 40 years and it’s been this way since I’ve been practicing.”
The district produces detailed plan specifications that are publicly advertised for bid. DiCara said: “As long as that contractor is prequalified by the state of New Jersey and they are $1 less than anyone else, that is your contractor. Unfortunately we can’t negotiate.”
Relating to management of the timeline, DiCara said the construction manager will not be a “clerk of the works”. The district will hire a construction management firm vs. a retired contractor.
What happens if the 10% contingency is not needed?
Karen Yeamans replied ‘The district can use the money for anything in the bond question that the district was unable to go out to bid for initially. Any funds not used go to paying down the debt."
According to DiCara, across the state, the average use of contingencies is about 3%. He said, “If you have 7% left over, you can’t go out and build a Jacuzzi for the board office.” There state has strict requirements and rules regarding use of contingencies.
Why are there two proposed bond sales?
Yeamans: [In 2018], a bond sale is proposed for half of the needed 66.5 to split the tax impact. In 2019 a second bond sale is proposed to obtain the remainder of the funds needed. The district is working with their financial advisors and looking closely at the bond market and interest rates. The district will make a decision if it is more advantageous to bond all at once or to split the bond based on what best benefits the taxpayers.
Why is the Referendum scheduled for September 2017?
Attorney John Kelly III called into question the reason for having a special election in September when the general gubernatorial election is two months later in November 2017.
Carnicella explained that the decision was based on the construction timeline. Yeamans also explained that there is an associated cost to hold the election that is built into the 2017-2018 budget. Addressing concern voiced by Kelly that the September date could ‘suppress the vote’; Carnicella said the Board will consider the November election date.
Should we be building new schools? Right Solution? What is Affordable?
DiCara replied " To build a new high school today, at current state requirements for a population the size of Nutley, square footage would be at least 70% larger than the existing high school. The construction cost would be slightly less but the overall project would more expensive due to the land costs.
A property size for a high school today is close to 30 acres as required by the state for a new school in a district with Nutley’s population.
The cost of the acreage for the bike shop equated to approximately $2.5M per acre. DiCara stated that this was a ‘bottom figure’ and land cost in Nutley could be up to $4M/acre.
Scenario: Building a new school for 300 student, a figure based on the number of sixth grade students being moved to the Middle School, would require approximately 56,000 sq. ft. of new construction costs plus land costs and demolition, site development and environmental remediation costs etc. with total costs estimated “way over $45M”. Sqare footage is determined by state requirements.
According to DiCara, to build one new elementary school would have a construction cost of $65M. He added that if property is available today, it has probably not been developed because ‘there is something in the ground’ that has to be remediated at a tremendous cost.
What is the cost of furnishings for the proposed new construction?
Yeamans: Furnishing costs are included in the budget. In addition, the district has also received donation of approximately $100,000.00 donation that will go towards furnishings. Furnishing are the desks and classroom furniture.
Will the district provide a list of the number of students per grade level generated from properties like Cambridge Heights and apartment buildings?
Glazer: The district is currently developing the list and looking to make the list available for the presentation at the Planning and Zoning Board meeting on Feb. 15th.
How does the demographic report take into consideration turnover at apartment rentals?
Glazer: Students enrolled in the district are assigned to every address by grade level. The demographer used a formula and determined that the current situation was not a ‘bubble’ of enrollment. Historical enrollment data allows the district to compare previous year enrollments to track growth or decline of students from all areas.
In response to a citizen’s comment that Nutley citizens were told that Cambridge Heights would have limited impact on the school system, Glazer stated that the current Board has been consistent in stating that while (developments/apartments) are not the only impact, there is an impact.
What is the impact of using $2.4 million from our capital reserve towards the new construction? What plans are in place to rebuild our capital reserve fund?
Yeamans: “We have been incrementally building our capital reserve over the past five years.” She stated that the capital reserve is restricted to capital projects such as the construction plans. In addition to the 2.4 million for construction, $1,000,000.00 has also been set aside in capital reserve for replacing the turf field at the Oval.
The district has also been building the Maintenance Reserve Fund. According to Yeamans, five years ago there was no money in this fund. There is now close to $500,000.00 of the fund that will be used for projects fixing the steps at Lincoln and fixing the parking lot at Radcliffe.
Yeamans said that while districts are not required to have capital reserve funds, there are limits as to how much can be held by districts in these funds. Yeamans said, “When I came here we had $129,000.00. We currently have a little over 4 million. So we take out the 2.4 and the million set aside for the turf, we will have anywhere from ¾ to 1 million in reserve and will continue to build to maintain that. “
Dr Glazer: “If you don’t’ use it you may lose it.” Yeamans noted that ‘one year the Governor took 25% of the money in the districts’ capital reserve as part of short changing of state aid’. She added, “There is conversation in Trenton about the possibility of that happening again so it is even more important that we allocate and secure funds for what we need in the district.”
What is the impact of non-resident students and variances approved for students to attend schools other than their ‘home’ school?
Glazer: At the start of the school year, there were 28 students identified as ‘not Nutley addresses or not accounted for’. The district enrollment team identified factors such as special education student, custody situation etc. and 6 of the students were ‘un-enrolled’. The district is currently also looking at the 131 variances that have been granted and mapping out if these students were sent back to their ‘home school’, what will the impact be as part of preparing for the future. Waivers are internal and not included in the demographers report.
Dr. Glazer said the district is providing before and after care to support some parents who are driving their children to different schools outside of their neighborhood due to current overcrowding.
What happens if the plan is not approved by the voters?
Glazer: ‘If the voters do not agree with this solution, we know we did our best bringing forth the best. It is the taxpayers’ decision.” What happens? The trailers stay, additional trailers, class sizes rise, redistricting “There is no Plan B.”
What is the plan for additional parking at the Middle School?
Carnicella: ‘We are right now, in a verbal agreement with an organization in the community to acquire space needed to provide additional parking to move the sixth grade over to the Middle School.’ He added that the district is fortunate that it will be able to acquire space to handle the ‘majority of the parking. The property purchase needed for additional parking is in the current school budget.
What is proposed to address the parking issues at Yantacaw?
Glazer: Since the issue of traffic and parking was brought up at the Yantacaw Town Hall, solutions for parking, pick up and drop off have been being looked at by Principal Francia. He is working with the architects on the parking issues. The current play area is being switched to the other side and not eliminated. The district is following up on all issues brought up at the town halls, including those not related to the referendum.
What if Pre-K is mandated by the State in the future?
Universal Pre-K was proposed by Governor Corzine in 2008. Currently, in the state of NJ, kindergarten is not mandated. Private providers and the districts provide kindergarten programs in forward thinking towns like Nutley.
[Note: In 2010, the BOE voted 7-to-1 full-day kindergarten that started in 2011. At that time, Business Administration Karen Yeamans said the original $375,000 price tag for full-day kindergarten was lowered when planners eliminated the need for trailers, construction and lunch tables. Read: Township of Nutley Code: Kindergarten and Extended Day Programs here: http://ecode360.com/12134195]
Will the additions at Yantacaw change to aesthetics of the street and neighborhood? According to the architect, the proposed designs respect the existing elevations and facades and continue the ‘rhythm’ of the neighborhoods. Preliminary plans provided at this time do not include architectural detail.
When the new classrooms are added what will be the classroom sizes?
Glazer: The district guidelines for class sizes are: Grades K - 1 = 18 – 20 students, Grades 1 – 2 = 20 -22 students, Grades 3-5 = 22 -25 students. The district tries to stop, even with overcrowding, at 25 per classroom.
A parent expressed concern that while the ‘true middle school model’ was to integrate sixth graders, the middle school addition appeared to be a separate wing that segregated the sixth graders. Middle School Principle Tracy Eagan explained: “The Middle school is organized by teams. Math, Science, English and Social Studies classrooms are as close together as possible. Those four teachers share the same 100 students. This gives teachers the opportunity to exchange information about the students. It is not that we are isolating them. It just happens to be where the new classrooms are located. Some of the elective classes etc. will be centrally located.”
Concern was voiced for the lack of technology shown in the details of the proposed plans. Glazer stated that the technology costs are built into the 5 year budget projections and are not included in the referendum. The district also receives federal Perkins grants to increase technology and support media centers.
It was noted that the budget for the project is not taking into consideration the costs of the human elements, new professional staff to take on these new students. Glazer commented that the district has responsibility to provide a high quality education to every student. To keep within the 2% there may be things let go, however, she promised, “It will not be staff.”
Regarding contractor change orders DiCara said, “In the complexity of additions, you can’t identify everything. There are legitimate change orders. The construction manager does the evaluation of the change orders.”
A Nutley resident in the audience asked: Regarding the bond interest rate. ‘I understand [by splitting the bond] you are trying to lessen the impact out the door. Chances are the interest rate is going to be higher. It may be more beneficial to bond it all at once.’
Another Nutley resident: “I have been a homeowner since the 90’s. There were three referendums that we are still paying for… We should have the referendum vote in November (when more people will turn out to vote).”
A Nutley Veteran stated: “I have lived in town since 1977. My wife is a realtor. My two daughters [also attending] went to Radcliffe and graduated from Nutley High. I have no problem putting money in the schools.”
One Nutley homeowner in the Yantacaw neighborhood: “I worked at Yantacaw as an aid for 15 years. The sixth graders love the air conditioned trailers.”
Nutley Homeowner: “A lot of us lived through the past several referendums…Your board here is completely different and living with the stigma…I wish people would give you a chance to prove yourself. I am willing to add to my $16,000.00 tax bill to improve the schools. And I think it is something everyone should have an open mind to.”
At two hours and 50 minutes, Radcliffe was the longest of the five presentations. President Carnicella, Superintendent Glazer, Business Administrator Yeamans and Architect DiCara fielded questions and addressed concerns for almost five hours. Video here:
The architectural concepts are available for review at the district offices in the Middle School building 325 Franklin Ave. Citizens are invited to view the plans and provide suggestions prior to the BOE’s scheduled session February 13th. During the closed session with the architects, the BOE will discuss possible revisions.
Feb 15th Joint Meeting Agenda: https://evogov.s3.amazonaws.com/media/20/media/45063.pdf
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