Voters Hear Pitch for $53.6 Million in Repairs to Pinelands Regional Schools

October 21, 2016 By: Adam Tait III for the Pine Barrens Tribune

What happens if the referendum is defeated? That question was addressed to Stephen J. Brennan, business administrator and board secretary of the Pinelands Regional School District.

The reply, accompanied by a frown, “We don’t want to think about that."

The exchange came at the end of a school board meeting last Wednesday night at the junior high school.

Pinelands Regional Schools
An engineer has concluded that water has penetrated the building's brick veneer, causing its deterioration. Photo Submitted.

The referenda, actually three, totaling just over $53.6 million dollars, are what’s needed to fix massive structural damage at Pinelands Regional High School and serious but lesser damage to the junior high school. The amount would be cut by the 40 percent contribution of the state, or $21 million. But that leaves taxpayers in four local communities on the hook for $32.6 million, to be paid over the next 25 years.

Compounding the problem is that the repairs, at least the overwhelming majority of them, are absolutely necessary. Total high school costs are $37 million; junior high school costs are $16.6 million.

While some major repairs are needed at the junior high school, built in 1990, it’s the older high school, erected in 1979, that is hazardously decayed. Nine classrooms had to be abandoned in the past year. A stair tower was torn down several months ago. The major repair at the junior high is a new roof.

The first, largest question totals just over $46.8 million, with a local, 60 percent bill of $28.1 million for the high school.

The next two referenda are relatively modest. The second, almost $4.9 million, is for electrical work and interior repairs at both schools. The state’s share would be $1.9 million. The third, priced at just under $2 million, involves the school’s athletic fields, including a new track and tennis courts, a grass-surfaced football field and a sidewalk leading to them.

When asked why money was being sought in this area, the reply was that the track was so unsafe now that lanes have had to be abandoned, the football field was so badly decayed as to be unsafe and the tennis courts were also dangerous.

The state’s share of the athletic repairs is only 19 percent.

As to the question of what happens if the vote is defeated, Brennan said there are several possibilities.

Here are the two most likely. The school board could simply call for another vote on the identical question and hope for a different result. That election would probably be held in January. The cost of a second vote is estimated to be $20,000 to $30,000.

If voters reject the bond issue a second time, split sessions or renting trailers for classrooms may occur. But if the defeat is relatively close, some smaller items could be cut or trimmed, in an effort to convert wavering voters in a third election.

Further complicating the issue is that if the first referendum goes down to defeat, the other two votes also lose, even if they are approved.

While space limitations bar itemizing all the repairs needed, here is a list of the major items and their estimated costs on the first referenda.

At the high school, the biggest item is $25 million for exterior repairs. Both the brick exterior and steel building frame are badly decayed due to interior water seepage. It was water damage that caused the classroom abandonment and stair tower demolition.

Masonry repairs for the entire building are $15 million. Replacing a single-membrane roof, with a three-ply model will cost almost $3.6 million. Exterior windows and frames will add $1.25 million.

These costs are associated with the junior high school. The largest is $4.25 million to replace a roof similar to the high school’s. Almost $1.2 million is needed for parking improvements, including road reconstruction, drainage, a ramp and exterior steps.

The junior school also needs almost $2.6 million for heating and air conditioning repairs in the gym, cafeteria, library and main offices and $1.8 million for air conditioning in two classroom wings.

The Pinelands School District takes in four towns. Bass River Township is in Burlington County. The other three are in Ocean County: Little Egg Harbor and Eagleswood townships and Tuckerton borough. Here’s what taxpayers in each town face, all based on a 25-year payment program. Bass River residents will pay $119 more annually, based on an average home assessment of $221,000. The figure for Eagleswood would also be $119. The average assessment there is $252,200.

Little Egg Harbor residents get off a bit easier. Their annual payments would rise $97, based on a valuation of $196,100. Tuckerton owners, with an assessment of $200,000, would pay $82 more.

Architect Bob Garrison, of the firm bearing his name, said actual costs may come in slightly lower.

A special meeting is slated for Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. for more discussion. It will be held across the street in the high school auditorium.

This meeting had a peak attendance of about 50, which dwindled to half that at adjournment. Seven of those attending had questions about the repairs. They were civil, but due to the circumstances of the meeting, it was difficult to verify their remarks. At most meetings, speakers stand at a dais with a microphone, sign in and introduce themselves. Here, there was no microphone and those speaking did so randomly from the rear of the auditorium.

While the proposed repairs occupied most of the meeting’s spotlight, a fair amount of other business also took place. A dozen teens won “Student of the Month” honors, a boy and a girl each in grades 7 through 12.

Reflecting national concern over increasing drug use among young people was Little Egg Harbor Township Police Det. Wilfredo Hernandez. He said police will increase activity in local schools in the hope that more police presence may discourage potential users.

Acting superintendent Dr. Maryann Banks spoke on two issues: lead content in the drinking water and the age-old problem of bullying and harassment among students. There are no problems with the water, according to Banks and no lead at all. She displayed a series of charts on bullying and harassment. Most showed a low level of incidents over the past few years, with a few jumps and dips, but nothing that could be called alarming.

The meeting began promptly at 7 p.m. and adjourned at 8:38 p.m. It had appeared that everyone was in for a much longer session. The repairs discussion began just before 8 p.m. and took 30 minutes. There were another nine pages in the agenda to complete, but the board polished them off in 10 minutes.

Don’t forget the special meeting at the high school. It’s Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m., a scant six days before the election. e


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