Up to $75 million sought for school projects
September 23, 2004
By LAVINIA DeCASTRO , Courier-Post Staff

Bonds proposed in Collingswood, Haddon Hts.

Voters in Collingswood and Haddon Heights will be asked to approve up to a combined $75 million in school construction projects. Both boroughs are expected to put construction referendums up for a vote next year, but neither has decided how much money to ask for. Designs for both districts are by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Haddon Heights schools need $19 million worth of renovation work, school district officials said. The district wants to replace sections of the roof, the windows, and some faulty or inefficient heating systems in several schools. Authorities also want to build a new gymnasium at Atlantic Avenue Elementary School. The Junior and Senior High School needs more classrooms and the auditorium, art rooms, music rooms and science labs need renovation, Superintendent Nancy Hacker said.

"We have a big space issue at the high school right now," Hacker said. "We have students at the auditorium during study hall." The money would also be used to build a multipurpose room at Seventh Avenue and Glenview schools. "We're really maxed out in terms of classroom space," she said, adding art and music classes are sometimes held in the cafeteria.

But taxpayers are not expected to fund the entire project. The state could pay up to 40 percent of construction costs. Hacker said the state usually funds between 25 percent and 35 percent of construction costs, sometimes more. That means Haddon Heights taxpayers could be asked to vote on whether to spend between $11 million and $14 million in taxes over the period of the bond at a January referendum. Hacker did not want to speculate on the tax impact of the proposed projects until the state determines how much it will fund.

Haddon Heights resident Carol Ostock said she will wait until the district provides a final figure before deciding on whether to vote for or against the projects."I haven't decided, but I think it's a bit exorbitant what they're asking for," Ostock said.

Collingswood schools need $56 million worth of work, school district officials said. Superintendent James Bathurst said the state will likely pay $17 million, leaving the remaining $39 million to taxpayers. That would result in a tax hike of roughly $427 for the average Collingswood house assessed at $102,500, school board President Craig Knaup said. But district officials know voters are unlikely to approve such a steep tax hike. "Quite honestly, we know that there's only so many dollars," Bathurst said.

"That's what I refer to as the Cadillac version, it has everything we could possibly want," Knaup said.

The schools' bare-minimum needs - such as asbestos removal, handicapped accessibility compliance and upgrades to the electrical and HVAC systems - would cost roughly $24 million, $10 million of which would come from the state. That means taxpayers would have to fund roughly $13 million. Knaup said voters will likely be asked to approve about $20 million worth of construction work in a March referendum. It is up to the community to decide how to spend it.

Paul and Tenley Diefenbach, who have lived in Collingswood for two years, said it would be money well spent. "It seems like the people who look for houses in Haddon Township or Haddonfield as opposed to Collingswood do it because of the schools," said Tenley Diefenbach, adding that the town could attract more new residents by improving its schools.

But some longtime residents are unconvinced. "I don't want to see the taxes go up anymore. They're high enough as it is," said Jim Nott, a volunteer at Friends in Deed, a thrift shop on Haddon Avenue. "I love this town, it's a great town, but the taxes are too high."


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