WEST ORANGE, NJ – The West Orange Board of Education (WOBOE) called for a special public work session on Thursday that provided more information regarding the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan (LRFP). Specifically, the WOBOE announced its intention to go out for a referendum providing funding for necessary updates that include the HVAC systems throughout the district, the retaining wall at Washington Elementary and more.
According to West Orange Superintendent Dr. J. Scott Cascone, the primary purpose of this meeting was to “restart the conversations about the building referendum,” which the board began discussing earlier this year. He noted that the board members elected to “slow down the process” so that they could make informed decisions about what will be part of the referendum by ensuring that there is a complete and thorough evaluation of all building systems.
Cascone explained that the district is currently focused on looking at the present debt service within the township, or how much the average household is currently paying related to the district’s previous projects, as well as how much the board, and eventually West Orange residents, would be willing to spend on a bond to cover the district’s facilities.
“[This meeting is] not about moving the referendum forward quickly,” said Cascone. “It’s really about what are our taxpayers currently bearing in debt service and how do we [the district] go about ensuring a comprehensive and thorough evaluation of our facilities.”
Tasked with projecting how certain bond amounts will impact the average home in West Orange, Business Administrator John Calavano shared that there are currently four bond issues that remain outstanding.
In 2003, there were renovations and additions made to Redwood, Gregory, Pleasantdale, Washington, Hazel, Edison and Roosevelt schools that ultimately cost $38.689 million. According to Calavano, who noted that it will only take eight more years to pay off that balance, the impact to the average household (assessed at $338,561) is $174.81.
In 2006, there were improvements to Washington and roof replacements at the West Orange High School (WOHS), St. Cloud, Redwood and Mt. Pleasant at a total cost of $4.387 million. There are only two payments or two years left, and the impact is $90.18, according to Calavano.
In 1999, additions were made to Redwood Elementary School and WOHS, costing $37 million. There are 10 payments left for this issue, and that impact is $22.56.
Lastly, in 1997, Calavano said there were improvements made to Edison, Roosevelt and WOHS totaling $10,968 million. There are currently five payments left, and the tax impact is $28.31, he said.
Calavano explained that the tax impacts on taxpayers “are very small numbers because the tax levy for debt service is only $5.6 million.” However, with a current with outstanding balance of $59.240 million, Calavano said that the “total tax impact on just the debt service of the total school tax levy is $315.85.”
Michael Wozny of EI Associates, an architectural design and engineering firm, came before the board on Thursday to present a series of options for the type of evaluation that would be the most beneficial to the district.
EI Associates has been working with the district for a few months to address the needs of the district with the original intention of planning for a sooner referendum.
“You had a list of projects that you identified that you’d like to take care of,” Wozny said to the board. “We had our engineers and architects go out [and look at] mechanical systems, the retaining wall of Washington School and we actually submitted those projects down to the Department of Education, got approval for those projects—so you’re set with those that were eligible for that service relief aid.”
Wozny added that since EI Associates had not completed an evaluation of all district buildings, the firm is currently taking a step back and working with the district’s Buildings and Grounds Department in order to “make sure that [the district’s] priorities are still [the district’s priorities and] that there’s nothing missing” in the evaluation.
Based on a preliminary evaluation provided by Bob Csigi, Director of Buildings and Grounds, Wozny said that the department has “done a great job taking care of the buildings, maintaining them and recording the things that haven’t been done.”
“We took that all into account as we were determining what our level of effort would be to do the work,” he said.
The first option that Wozny presented was a basic plan where the district would do what is required by the State of New Jersey. He explained that this option identifies all the deficiencies within the district and would include a simple description of the need, the cost, the priority and a description of the system.
Wozny described the second option, which involves a “Facility Assessment Report,” is more user friendly because the document would provides pictures and more-elaborate descriptions of district deficiencies in layman’s terms.
“Instead of just saying that a window’s being replaced at such-and-such school, we might say when they were installed, if they are originals in the construction of the building, or if they’re 50 years old and why they need to be replaced,” said Wozny.
Cascone noted that the second option is in a format “that can be useful moving forward in not only educating our stakeholders about the needs, but then also repurposed when we move into the referendum phase for marketing, branding and building understanding within the public about what those needs are.”
The third option involves doing an analysis of educational program enhancement needs in addition to building evaluations was also presented. Although Wonzy explained that this would be beneficial in potentially improving facilities such as science labs, kitchens, library media centers and other facilities within the Business and Career and Technical Education (CTE) departments, the board that these are improvements that are not being considered in this upcoming referendum.
Moving forward, board members expressed the most interest in option two.
“I’m a very visual person, and I think as we get our stakeholders to understand the decision that we will make it will make it easier for them to understand, as well as for a lay person such as myself,” board member Terry Trigg-Scales said about the second option. “I’m also interested in option three. I would see it to be very beneficial to us […] down the road.”
Fellow board member Mark Robertson added that he would also like to see health and safety needs—including air quality and the annual maintenance plan for the district’s water systems—to be considered as the district continues to develop the LRFP.
The board also took the time to review draft goals for the WOBOE and for the district, both of which will be approved at the next public meeting on Sept. 23 at WOHS.