RANDOLPH, NJ - The Board of Education held a Q&A session during Thursday’s meeting to better communicate the upcoming referendum being proposed. The vote will occur on Oct. 2, and Board Vice President Joe Faranetta encourages residents to “bring a neighbor” and vote.
The board architect, Greg Somjen of Parette Somjen Architects, also attended the meeting to provide clear explanations for some of the costs associated with the projects, but most of the questions revolved around the proposed $8 million field house/ student activities center.
Faranetta began the presentation by detailing how the project started in 2017 with a Facilities Task Force of 36 constituents -- students, teachers, PTO members -- but no board members.
Back in January, the task force made a presentation to the board stating a great need for additional storage in Fernbrook Elementary, the middle school and the high school. They explained that additional building walkthroughs revealed music rooms and science rooms original to the building.
The group also suggested a large multi-use facility or additions onto both RMS and RHS to accommodate possible STEM program growth, as well as concessions and bathrooms. At the time, the task force could not agree on the purpose of the building.
Faranetta said the board went back and forth on the name for the field house because they believe it does not accurately describe the full purpose. For the state proposal, they labeled it as a field house, but want the public to understand the instructional aspects of the building, as well.
“This is not a glorified locker room,” Faranetta said. However, having two locker rooms at the field will allow the high school to stay locked during the games, improving security with the potential of lowering operating costs.
The majority of the referendum funds security updates to all the buildings, as well as a necessary roof repair at Center Grove Elementary.
If the student population has declined, why do we need so much space?
Faranetta addressed this question before the Q&A even started by adding it to his presentation.
“Education does not stand still,” he said. Makerspaces, computer rooms, server rooms and inclusive teaching strategies utilize more space in the buildings than in the past 10 years. With the focus on mental health, the need arose for emotional well-being rooms.
“Capstone programs don’t work well in traditional block classrooms,” he added. “They require a more collaborative space.”
Faranetta also spoke to the demographics, “We’ve talked to the real estate folks, we’ve talked to the council, they all expressed that we’ve definitely bottomed out and should go back up.”
Why build such a large field house facility?
Resident Adam Zyto described the 17,000 square-foot building as “almost obscene in size and scope."
Sheldon Epstein, chair of the Finance, Facilities and Transportation Committee, responded that the proposed field house would be more than a large locker room. This building would have instructional space for the physical education and health programs.
“We looked at a labor market analysis for the tri-state area, and health sciences seem to be on the top for the next 10 years,” Superintendent Jenn Fano added. “We’re looking to design a health science program… That’s really what’s driving the instructional space in the new facility, so a health science program is the direction we’re headed.”
“Our capital plan on average is $1-3 million per year. There’s absolutely no way to fit any $8 million building or upgrade into a single year,” Epstein said, explaining the need to include the facility in a one-time referendum.
“The only other option would be to do it in stages,” he continued. “That’s much more intrusive on the type of education we could deliver to the students… In this case, a building like that would not be completed in a minimum of three years, more likely over four or five years.”
Why only one question on the ballot?
This meeting was not the first time the board heard this comment from the public. While the state is providing $6 million for security updates and renovations, the field house is not eligible for state aid because new construction does not qualify.
“At the end of the day, we had a task force that told us what they wanted,” Faranetta said. “It’s all connected in some way… This isn’t just a new locker room, it’s space that we need to evolve our curriculum.”
“From a task force standpoint, this is what they told us was important; this is what our kids are telling us they need, what our teachers are telling us they need for the way they teach today, so that’s why we kept it together,” he concluded.
How does the board account for inflation in construction costs?
While residents grew concerned that the $25 million would not cover the full costs as construction rates rise, Somjen explained the state requirements built into the budget because of this problem.
“The department of education requires a five percent contingency [in the state-aid application],” Somjen said. “Those numbers include a 5-10 percent contingency always.”
Just this year, the price of petroleum increased, which raised the price of roofing materials, asphalt and transportation, Somjen added.
He also mentioned the numbers displayed all costs, including not only the hard costs but also professional fees and permits to give an accurate idea of the budget. Additionally, on a public project, the labor must be billed at prevailing wage.
What about the immediate needs left unfulfilled by the referendum?
Speaking primarily of the HVAC projects in the middle school, parking around the high school, and a few other projects, residents wanted to know why these were not included in the referendum plan.
However, Faranetta and Epstein pointed out that with the capital freed up by the referendum, many of these projects will be completed in the normal budget.
In fact, contingent on the referendum passing, the board approved 100 new parking spaces at DaSilva field to be included in the 2018-19 budget.
Last, two points asked later by the public were clarified by the board. If this referendum does not pass on Oct. 2, Farranetta expressed that It will likely take about a year to possibly get to another vote , as many items will need to be adjusted and taken out because they cannot wait and will need to be taken out of the regular budget. It was also questioned whether the whole board is in support if the referendum, and the answer was "YES."
Prior articles with additional detail: