Jan. 26 Referendum Will Decide Future of LCMR, Lower Township School Changes

Cape May County Herald on November 18, 2015

ERMA-  "We are your school board," said Christopher Kobik, superintendent of Lower Cape May Regional School District, as a community presentation commenced Nov. 16. Held in the high school theater, a number of township residents attended the meeting. Kobik turned the presentation over to Robert Garrison Jr. of Garrison Architects. Garrison continued to explain that the two PowerPoints would present facts of the proposed bond referendum.

In an age of increased security and updated facilities, Garrison, Kobik, and Frank Onorato, business administrator

Lower Cape May Regional School District

and board secretary for Lower Township schools, emphasized the need for the elementary, middle, and high schools to incorporate changes and upgrades. Kobik stressed the priority to have a "safe place" for students, many from difficult neighborhoods and situations. "You are the voters," said Garrison. Garrison began with the agenda for Lower Township Elementary School district. Because both Lower Cape May Regional and Lower Township share the same goals in terms of projects, Garrison gave both presentations, including costs and tax impact on the community.

Robbi Acampora of Phoenix Advisors, LLC, also explained how the bond process would proceed if passed. She presented "15 and 20-year level payment plans."

The agenda for Lower Township began with state Department of Education school facilities funding options; Garrison explained the reason for the "educational facilities construction and financing act." On July 18, 1998, the "Construction and Financing Act" passed into law after the Abbott family won its case in the state supreme court. The "Abbott Law" provides for "100 percent state funding of eligible school construction costs in Abbott districts." Such "Abbott districts" include Trenton, Pleasantville, Camden, and more. According to the state, a child's education is impacted by his/her physical surroundings. Garrison pointed out that although Lower Township is in "the non-Abbott district," funding from the state will be a minimum of 40 percent. According to the presentation, "The most significant advantage is that a school district will receive approximately the same amount of state aid under Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act’s debt service aid and grant programs."

School facility projects include Maud Abrams School, Carl T. Mitnick School, and the Charles W. Sandman Consolidated School. At Maud Abrams, milling and resurfacing "the entrance road and parking lot and site drainage" comprise the project along with roof repair and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The local share is 60 percent, bringing the estimated total to $1.5 million. Garrison said roof repairs would "provide sloping according to code" and include "20-plus years of warranty." With added insulation to the building, the school will become more energy efficient, resulting in lower costs and less taxes. The roof on the Mitnick School has also "outlived its usefulness." Sandman requires paving and drainage upgrades as well.

Acampora accompanied the presentation by further describing how residents would experience costs in their taxes, based on a 15 or 20-year plan.Acampora said the bonds will sell as "municipal tax exempt bonds" if the referendum passes Jan. 26. Tax impact calculators are provided on the district's website where residents can "obtain your specific tax impact."

Lower Regional's plan encompasses a wide array of improvements, updates, and even a free-standing, self-contained field house for athletic and other events. The Richard Teitelman Middle School project requires resurfacing, drainage, roof replacement over the science wing, window replacements, new security vestibule, and electrical updates. Garrison remarked on his remembering the science wing addition in 1994: "Now we are talking about a roof upgrade!" Lower Cape May Regional High School will receive site repair, exterior renovations, and interior renovations, including locker room renovations and new security lighting. The free-standing field house would occupy the tennis court location and would be large enough to facilitate three wrestling mats and three batting cage areas. Kobik spoke of his hopes for the field house to be a "safe place" for students and for the community as a whole. A positive place, free from the temptation and influence of drugs and alcohol.

Before questions were taken, Garrison explained why the vote for regional and Lower Township will be held in January. "Like anything in New Jersey, we have legislation that tells us when we can hold special elections," Garrison said. By voting in January, securing an engineer and construction crews can be carried out in a "timely manner." The window of time for these projects is after school is dismissed in June.

Securing prices before they rise again is also a concern to school boards. According to Acampora, the window on the 40 percent state aid was closed until 2014, after the state's economic crisis. "It could close again," Acampora said.

When asked if the referendum does not pass on Jan. 26, Kobik said that the school board would "throw some good money after bad." "Patching" facilities would create a spiral effect, according to Kobik. Garrison also added that "temporary fixes" cannot secure state aid. Onorato also testified to Lower Township's care for the school buildings. Onorato described the upgrades as "maintaining what we have."

If the referendum does pass, field house construction would begin in 2016 so students may use the facility in September 2017. "Our students deserve a safe, indoor facility," said Kobik.

Both presentations will be available on the district's website.

Both Lower Cape May Regional and Lower Township plan to take these issues to the public in a variety of ways. From social media to mass mailings, Kobik described the school board's efforts as "boots on the ground."


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