12 Gloucester County districts OK'd for grants

Thursday, July 29, 2010
By Jessica Beym

Twelve school districts in Gloucester County were given approval by the state Wednesday to receive nearly $20.9 million in grants for renovations and construction projects that are expected to cost $67.5 million.

The much-anticipated funding, however, hinges on getting voters to approve footing the remainder of the bill.

Statewide, 177 school districts were deemed eligible for about $270 million in state funds. Among the largest projects approved for funding in Gloucester County are two major expansions in one of the fastest-growing regions of the state.

Kingsway Regional School District, where enrollment has been rapidly growing, was approved for about $8.6 million in state grants to put toward construction projects at both the middle and the high schools. The work is estimated to cost about $31.1 million, according to Grant Applications of Garrison Architects of Marlton, and would entail more than a dozen new classrooms at each school, as well as expansions and additions to the cafeterias, gyms, offices and more.

The district has been eyeing an expansion for some time, and first proposed a referendum for voter support in December. The capacity of the two schools combined is about 2,300 and they are close to, if not over, that amount. A demographic study, by Sundance Associates, done in October 2009 projected that by 2014, the middle school's enrollment would be at about 1,124 students, and the high school's at 2,041.

"We have a growth issue at Kingsway that has to be addressed and we're going to move it on as expeditiously as possible," said Kingsway Regional Board of Education President Mark Kehoe. "The first step is to get the project approved by the voters."

The next opportunity for any school district to hold a special referendum is September, but Kehoe estimated that date will be too soon. December would be the next opportunity.

But getting voter support in a rough financial climate could be difficult, especially when annual school expenses have already increased in the regional district between about $28 to $136 for the average homeowners.

Kehoe said the school board and administration will have to be optimistic.

"We put it out there with the hope and anticipation that it will be approved," he said. "If it goes down, you have to re-evaluate and make changes and revise it and send it out for another vote. We've had projects that didn't get approved at Kingsway before and I think that's a common experience these days throughout the state."

East Greenwich School District is also seeing a pressing need for expansion and was approved for about $7 million in state funds for a $25.4 million expansion at its two schools. Designed by Garrison Architects of Marlton, the projects call for a pre-kindergarten classroom, four kindergarten classrooms and seven general classrooms to the Jeffrey Clark School and 14 classrooms, gym renovations and more to the Samuel Mickle School.

Valerie Carmody, business administrator for East Greenwich schools, said the plan they presented to the state is the minimum of what they would need.

"Anything less would have an impact," she said.

The school board plans to move forward with a referendum, and if approved this winter, the project could break ground by next summer, Carmody said.

The funding was approved by Gov. Chris Christie's administration and is expected to generate as many as 6,000 jobs in the state during the course of construction. The funding was allocated by the state Department of Education and was prioritized based on critical needs such as health, safety, special education, and overcrowding.

"Efficient, up-to-date school facilities are a priority of this administration and part of ensuring New Jersey children receive a quality education," Christie said in a statement. "These grants will fund critical projects across our state, helping to improve the learning environments for our students and providing necessary support to districts by easing their local property-tax burden."


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