Grant will fund facelift for Ewing schools

Published: Saturday, January 22, 2011, 2:00 AM
By David Karas/The Times

EWING — From asbestos abatement to auditorium improvements, a handful of township schools are due to get a partial facelift after news that state grants just shy of $1 million have been awarded to the district, following applications submitted by Garrison Architects, the district's Architect of Record.

The Christie administration announced Thursday that the Ewing Public Schools will receive $950,000 through the state Schools Development Authority’s regular operating district grant program, which was described by the agency as the furthering of Gov. Chris Christie’s “commitment to providing the state’s children with safe, modern and efficient schools.”

The state funding will complement roughly $1.4 million from the district itself to allow for the improvements, which had been on hold pending word from the state.

“At a time when state money is very difficult to come by, we’re thrilled to have these funds to support improvements that will benefit our students,” said Brian Falkowski, school business administrator and board secretary for the district.

As part of the collective improvements, Fisher Middle School will receive a complete renovation of its auditorium, including flooring, ceilings, seating and heating and air conditioning work, and asbestos flooring tiles at Lore Elementary School will be replaced with safer materials, while parking and storm water systems will be upgraded.

At the high school, the funding will allow for the removal and replacement of vinyl asbestos tile flooring and siding, and the same will be done at Antheil Elementary School.

The funding will also provide for a districtwide energy audit and repairs to its fire alarm and clock systems, and Falkowski said that most work is expected to begin within the year.

“The SDA is committed to easing local taxpayers’ burden by providing state grants to assist with schools facilities projects,” said spokesperson Edye Maier of the Schools Development Authority, who said that this is the first time that grants from the regular operating district grant program have been awarded to Ewing.

Since May of last year, the SDA has executed 368 grants. The program funds at least 40-percent of eligible costs for selected projects, which address health and safety issues, student overcrowding and other critical needs.

According to an SDA release, the state Department of Education selects projects to receive a portion of the funding, which was made available through the sale of $500 million in bonds by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority.

Falkowski credited some clever financing on the part of the district to fund the majority of the endeavor. In every annual school year budget for the last decade, he said, a line item for short-term loan payments has been included.

“It represents a creative strategy of maintaining five unique five-year short-term loan agreements,” he said, explaining that the move allows for “an immediate influx of cash into our school system” for either equipment and textbooks or capital projects. Those are the only two uses approved by state law, he said.

He explained that the loans are structured so that one matures each year.

“Essentially, the board of education has a stable finance structure in place for capital improvements on an annual basis,” he said. “As other school districts throughout the state struggle to maintain their facilities, The Ewing Public Schools have the ability to adhere to our state-mandated long range facilities plan and five-year annual maintenance plan.”

Falkowski said that in early December, the district closed on a state-approved $2.5 million five-year capital lease with Bank of America with an interest rate of just 2.05-percent.

“This capital lease represents the local share of the pending capital projects,” he said.


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