Voters say yes to $21M Rancocas Valley school referendum
|By Gianluca D’Elia Posted Sep 24, 2019 at 9:32 PM Updated Sep 24, 2019 at 9:43 PM Burlington County Times
Residents of Rancocas Valley’s sending districts voted Tuesday on a major referendum that calls for security and health upgrades to the 1930s building.
MOUNT HOLLY — Voters in the Rancocas Valley Regional High School District’s sending towns approved a $21 million referendum that will fund major health and safety upgrades to the dated high school building to designs by Garrison Architects of Bellmawr.
Voters approved the measure by a vote of 2,482 to 951, according to unofficial results provided by the district Tuesday night.
Vote-by-mail ballots that were postmarked by Tuesday from the five sending towns — Eastampton, Hainesport, Lumberton, Mount Holly and Westampton — have not yet been counted by the county clerk’s office.
The $21.7 million bond aims to relocate key offices as part of a visitor management plan, replace failing windows, install a new HVAC system schoolwide and renovate bathrooms for access to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The upgrades, particularly the new windows and air conditioning, would make the school safer and improve students’ overall health, according to Superintendent Christopher Heilig. They’d help students work better when temperatures rise while keeping the building secure by allowing classes to keep their windows closed and locked.
The project is part of a strategic plan called “Vision 2020,” which utilizes community feedback to find ways to improve the school in the future. Because of gun violence at other schools nationwide, safety was a concern brought up multiple times in community forums, Heilig said.
“Thank you to the communities of Eastampton, Hainesport, Lumberton, Mount Holly and Westampton for supporting our district and taking their RV PRIDE to the polls,” Heilig said in response to the bond’s approval. “We can now finish strong to complete our Vision 2020 strategic plan and fulfill our commitment to make a long-term, collective investment in our students and their futures.”
Additional security improvements include construction of a vestibule at the annex building’s entrance and the reconfiguration of offices frequented by school visitors at the high school. This new office configuration will help the district complete its vision for visitor management by keeping guests in one main area once they check in at the new security vestibule, Heilig said.
Outside of the referendum, the school has also added more security guards and a school resource officer from the Mount Holly Police Department, and is serving as a testing location for artificial intelligence technology that could detect weapons before they enter the building. Additionally, through a school security grant of $1 million from the county freeholders, the school renovated its front entrance and offices to add a security vestibule, limiting how many visitors .
All of the projects proposed in the referendum qualify for 40% state aid totaling $8.5 million, reducing taxpayers’ share of the costs to just over $13 million, officials said. State aid is only available through a voter-approved bond referendum for projects that aren’t already funded by a school district’s yearly operating budget.
The impact to taxpayers with homes assessed at the township averages would be just under $78 a year to support the referendum, according to the school district.
The referendum “allows us to balance our responsibilities to our taxpayers and to our school,” Board of Education President Chip Miller said Tuesday.
The referendum projects could be completed in 2 to 3 years.
“The amount of support with ‘yes’ votes really makes a statement,” Heilig said Tuesday night. “People are passionate about the school and kids, and they’ll do whatever they need to make this a safe, secure and healthy place. It was a positive, systemic approach.