On October 2, 2018, Mount Laurel voters will consider a $35.5 million bond referendum that would make renovations in all eight school buildings. In addition, space would be reconfigured in two schools and additions added in two more to make space for a full-day kindergarten program. The proposal aims to better serve the educational needs of students, improve safety and security and provide cost-saving efficiencies in operation.
What Will the Capital Improvement Referendum Include?
In general, the referendum question includes replacement of the fire alarms systems in every school. Most of those systems are at a critical aging point and we are experiencing difficulty in finding replacement parts. Full replacement is not only prudent, but necessary.
We will replace boilers and HVAC systems in all eight schools for the same reason. Many are over 20 years old at this point. More efficient HVAC motors, blowers and natural gas boilers, according to our engineer’s energy savings study, will result in annual savings of more than $194,000 per year district-wide moving forward. Newer unit ventilators and blowers will help to improve air quality at the same time.
The referendum will include additions to Fleetwood and Larchmont Schools. Four new classrooms will be built at Fleetwood and Larchmont will expand by three new classrooms to accommodate full-day kindergarten programs in those facilities. In our other K-4 schools, there will be alterations to existing spaces to adequately provide for full-day kindergarten.
The October 2 ballot question will include security system upgrades in every building, providing more cameras and replacing door locks and additional security screening devices for our new school vestibule areas.
We will replace roofs on four of our schools, and a portion of a fifth school. These roofs are in need of replacement, and the improvement will allow us to expand our solar energy program in the future. Our solar program has generated additional income to offset costs through the sale of solar renewable energy credits, or SREC’s.
The referendum will allow us to install LED lighting in every area of our facilities. The previous replacement of our outside lighting with LED has resulted in significant energy savings to the district. Completing the indoor LED transition in all eight schools is estimated to account for over $159,000 of the more than $194,000 in energy savings the district will realize each year.
We have many areas at most of our schools where cracked sidewalks, curbing and parking areas are a concern. The concrete and asphalt work is included in the referendum question.
We will undertake work on our playgrounds to improve those areas for health, safety and security soundness.
Why is the Referendum Question Being Presented at This Time?
October 2 is the date set by the state of New Jersey for special school district elections this year. Holding the election on this date will allow the district to sell bonds later this year and begin construction for the anticipated opening of full-day kindergarten in September, 2019.
In 2019-20, the district will significantly reduce its financial obligations. Bonds sold to build Springville Elementary School and fund improvement projects at Hartford and Harrington Schools in 2001 will be paid in full. Our long-range plan, therefore, has been to hold some of the pressing capital projects for referendum as that pay-out approaches in order to minimize the impact on taxpayers.
Currently, we are approved to receive 40-percent state aid on more than $31 million of the referendum costs, which will result in a state aid return to the district of $12,498,720. Mount Laurel typically receives less than 10-percent state aid each year, so that is a significant contribution to the district. It is not known how long this construction aid will be available at the state level, which is another reason why we must act now.
What is the Tax Impact of the Referendum on Mount Laurel Residents?
Next year, the owner of the average home valued at $237,600, will pay $153.18 for the debt service portion of the Mount Laurel Schools’ budget. With the passage of the October 2 Referendum Question, that amount will be reduced by an average of approximately $50 the following year, and will decline throughout the life of the bonds.