Salem County freeholders OK
$6M bond for school
Sunday, June 22, 2008
By Randall Clark

SALEM A $6 million bond to acquire and renovate a special needs school in Cumberland County was unanimously adopted by the freeholders, seeking to bridge the learning gap for area students with disabilities. The 20-year bond, to be repaid by the Salem County Special Services District, will go toward creating an ideal educational environment for students at what used to be the Fairfield primary school, located at 13 Ramah Road in Fairfield Township. Design is by Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel.

District Superintendent Loren Thomas explained that there is a greater need than ever for more classroom space, and an influx of students on the horizon.
Figures from the Salem County Office of the Disabled show approximately 55 residents' needs are unmet by current programs. "We are going to make it a first-class place that handicapped students and their parents are proud of," Thomas said.
There are presently 17 students at the school from Salem and Cumberland counties, Thomas said, with room to expand to 70. Though in terms of large-scale growth, he remarked "I hope we never get there."

The Special Services School District has asked for $500,000 to buy the property, another $4 million for renovations and $1.5 million to make other changes specifically geared toward making life easier for kids with disabilities particularly autism.
County Administrator Earl Gage said there are various sources of income which will repay the bond the county has made, including funds from the state and Cumberland County.

"The Special Services School District is paying all costs," Gage said. "The district is receiving lease payments for the building and programs from Cumberland County in a shared services agreement. These payments will go toward the bond payments. I also believe that the district is receiving a state grant for some of the costs, again which will be used for the bond."

Cumberland County is currently providing $1.4 million over seven years for rehabilitation. Annual tuition from home districts is now about $30,000 per year. In addition, 55 percent of the construction costs could be paid for by state aid.
Thomas said the money will go toward bringing the building up to code, adding a sensory garden and music therapy. Plans are to install new windows, bathrooms in the classes and non-ballasted, noiseless lights to prevent distraction.
"Kids with autism, one thing we know based on research that works, would be rooms that are sensory oriented," according to Thomas. "Lights, colors, sounds these are things that need to be controlled in the environment of an autistic child."

Statistics show an alarmingly high autism rate in Salem County compared to the rest of the state and nation. According to figures, 1 out of 155 children in the U.S. fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum disorder. In New Jersey, that number is 1 out of 94, and in Salem County, it is found to be as high as 1 out of every 76 children.

Thomas said the school will be nearing that gold standard in special service education, a sentiment agreed upon by county Freeholder Deputy Director David Lindenmuth and the freeholder board.

"Any time we can improve the lives of our young people it is paramount," Lindenmuth said. "Specials Services does a great job providing opportunities for them."

 

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