Clayton voters to decide fate of school expansion project


Tuesday, September 15, 2009
By Jessica Driscoll

CLAYTON Residents will have the opportunity on September 29 to vote on a proposed bond referendum for district-wide renovation and expansion of the borough's schools, and on Monday the superintendent and project architect explained the necessity and timeliness of its passage.

"We've had the opportunity to work with both the board of education and the community group to evaluate both schools and determine their most important needs," said Bob Garrison Sr. of Garrison Architects. "The school district needs voter approval to borrow the money needed for a project of this scale. The district has been awarded a grant that will cover nearly half of the project's cost if the community acts favorably on the referendum, but if not the district will lose that opportunity."

The total cost of the district's project is $20,007,138. Of that amount, $9,989,585 has been promised to Clayton schools by the state if the borough approves the remaining $10,017,553 for the project. If approved, the referendum will mean an estimated tax impact of $216.44 per year for residents with a home assessed at $100,000.

The projects included in the referendum for Herma S. Simmons Elementary School are the conversion of the board of education office into three classrooms; replacement of the roof, chiller, electrical service, emergency generator and HVAC rooftop units; and masonry repairs and parking lot and playground reconstruction.

For the middle school and high school, the projects include board of education office relocation; IMC conversion to entrance and middle school offices; renovations to classrooms and the computer lab; an upgrade of the security system; replacement of the emergency generator, interior doors and hardware, HVAC systems in the gym and auxiliary gym; construction of a library/IMC to department of education standards; expansion and renovation of the cafeteria and kitchen; construction of a high school entrance and office; the addition of two science labs with prep rooms, 16 Smart Classrooms, five small group/special education classrooms and an art studio; renovation of the TV studio; reconstruction of the baseball field; a new middle school/high school plaza on Pop Kramer Blvd. and the addition of a connector drive between the parking lot and plaza.

These changes are meant to satisfy Clayton's unhoused student population, address increased enrollment, provide a separate entrance and identity for the high school and middle school, create additional specialized spaces to meet minimum NJ DOE Core Curriculum Standards, improve safety and security of students and to replace outdated systems and update district technology.

"If we pass the referendum, we will be out for bids in the spring and ahead of the curve for construction," said Garrison.

"We've received the highest monetary award from the state in Gloucester County, but now it's a matter of people coming out and expressing themselves with a vote," said Superintendent Cleve Bryan. "We've done a feasibility study and this project would allow for the significant growth we project in the next five years."

Simmons principal Patrice Taylor echoed the importance of accommodating that growth.

"As of July first, we had 154 new students enrolled at Simmons and we will continue to see new enrollments throughout the year," said Taylor. "We have 804 students in our school and not one free classroom. That growth will soon hit the middle school and high school."

After the meeting, most of the residents in attendance seemed to support the referendum.

"I actually think it's a good idea because if we lose out now, we're out of the loop for this state funding," said Michelle Pilitowski. "These buildings are 20 years old and they need upgrading. We need to do what will benefit our children. That's why we pay taxes, to give them the best education possible."

"Our schools need to be brought up to date with technology, into the 21st century," added Debbie Koenig. "We want Clayton to provide the best educational opportunities."

John Kinsley put it bluntly.

"Anything you can get for half-price, you take it," said Kinsley. "It's a no-brainer. We cannot pass this up because we won't see another opportunity like it."

Voting for the bond referendum will take place September 29 between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. in the Simmons Elementary School Auditorium. Additional information about the proposed plan can be found on the district's Web site at www.clayton.k12.nj.us, in the district newsletter or by calling the district offices at (856) 881-8868 extension 3050.

A property tax reimbursement program is available for seniors and disabled residents to offset the tax increases of the proposed referendum. More information about this program is available at the municipal building.

 

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