Upper Township asks $38 million question: What is the best way to fix up township schools?

By CAITLIN DINEEN Staff Writer |
Posted: Friday, November 12, 2010

MARMORA - In the last of three information sessions scheduled to discuss a proposed school renovation and construction project in Upper Township, residents squared-off against each other Thursday night regarding the $38 million project.

While some residents, both parents and non-parents, said they were in favor of the project, others said now is not the time to ask taxpayers for money.

About two dozen people showed-up for the session Thursday. The first two sessions only attracted one township resident, the same resident at both sessions.

Despite financial concerns brought up by residents, Upper Township School District Superintendent Vincent Palmieri said township schools need to be fixed. "We understand the economy," Palmieri said during the 2 hour session. "It's never a good time to ask people for more money."

During the presentation, Bob Garrison, of Garrison Architects, said a plethora of problems, including schoolwide asbestos, old roofs and window, plague the township's primary, elementary and middle schools.

That is why the project - which includes renovations to the primary and middle schools and the construction of a new elementary school - will likely be put to voters Jan. 25.

Garrison said the Board of Education will decide Nov. 15 if the project will go to a referendum.

State funding for the project is accounted for, and the local share of the project would be $28.76 million.

But if the project goes to a referendum, residents will be asked to approve $32 million in bonding due to the type of state funding awarded to the township.

Mike Garcia, the Board of Education's accountant, said $3.42 million in state funding for the construction of the elementary school is debt service that will be paid back to the township over the life of the total bond.

The other portion of the $9.8 million awarded to Upper Township is grant money already set aside if the project is approved.

Even with state funding in place, some residents said they hope board of education officials look for alternate ways to repair the schools.

"It's a hugely aggressive program," township resident Steve Martinelli said. "You're just going to have a hard time selling this."

Martinelli said school officials should consider selling district-owned property in town to help offset the cost.

Additionally, Martinelli said a scaled-back plan, which focuses on making the necessary repairs without replacing any buildings, should be considered.

Parents in the audience said they know the financial implications of the project but they think residents should consider the township's children before opponents rejecting the plan.

Garcia said the proposal would raise the school tax rate per $100,000 of assessed value from $79.29 to $96.61 a year depending on the length of the bond.

Seaville resident and district parent Linda Gullo said she supports the project because it is evident Upper Township children need a new school and the other schools need rehabilitation.

"Our kids are going to need a new building," Gullo said.

Even board members got heated when discussion turned to numbers and whether people wanted to pay for the project.

After arguments between opponents and supporters, board member Audrey Eichenberger said she was "tired" of people complaining about spending money they feel they do not have to spend.

"Somebody paid for your education," she said. "If you don't do this now, it's going to cost your kids."


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