By TALIA WIENER
Montclair School Board members continue to plan a referendum on capital improvement bonds at the end of the year, hoping Montclair voters will support work that would include $15.5 million for upgrades heating, ventilation and air conditioning in the school district.
But the tie put in front of voters could ultimately include work beyond that as well, council members said at a Feb. 2 meeting.
The council’s facilities and finance committee wants the bond to include all items considered in ‘Phase 2’ of HVAC upgrades laid out in a master plan by Parette Somjen Architects, said committee chairman Eric Scherzer. Phase 2 includes projects in nine of the district’s buildings.
“We have some very beautiful buildings in the city, but it’s important for us to realize that, as beautiful as they are, if you look at them really closely, they start to bend with wear and tear,” the vice-president said. Board Chair, Priscilla Church. “The opportunity before us is absolutely phenomenal.”
Phase 1 of the district’s HVAC upgrades, the installation of mechanical ventilation in 66 district classrooms that previously had none, was completed in January, according to a community message from Superintendent of Schools Jonathan Ponds.
The board also approved an additional $90,000 deal with Parette Somjen Architects at its meeting. Under the agreement, the company will complete and submit bond project applications to the New Jersey Department of Education for buildings in the district.
Nominations for the bond projects must be submitted to the state Department of Education by May 5 in order to place a referendum on the November ballot, Scherzer said Wednesday. Preparing for a bond referendum usually takes about six months and includes required steps such as an application and review by the state Department of Educationand official notice to the County Board of Elections.
But the council is not locked into the November election date, Church said Wednesday. She is also a member of the Facilities and Finance Committee. If the bond referendum were held in November, it would run alongside a regular election already scheduled for three seats on the board. Otherwise, the district would have to hold a special election, at additional cost.
“We have specific deadlines right now that we’re trying to meet, but we’re open because we want to do the right job,” Church said. “We want our kids to get into only the best when it comes to buildings and structures.”
Bond referendums can legally only be scheduled at certain times of the year. A bond referendum can be put to voters on the second Tuesday in December, the fourth Tuesday in January, the second Tuesday in March, the last Tuesday in September or in a general council election on the first Tuesday in November, according to Charlene Peterson, County of ‘Essex representing the New Jersey School Boards Association.
The council has also asked Parette Somjen Architects to assess any major structural issues not included in Phase 2 – areas which need to be resolved over the next two to three years and cannot be covered by routine maintenance , Scherzer said on Wednesday. Up to 100 issues in the district, including boiler and roof replacement, were discussed, he said.
Facilities in the Montclair School District have been neglected and require major work, Scherzer said Wednesday. In addition to Phases 1 and 2 of CVC, the master plan identified $37 million in high-priority projects, as well as more than $95 million in future projects.
“It’s not a matter of assessing blame,” Scherzer said. “But some of those things are things that we have to deal with because if we don’t deal with them, we end up having bigger problems.”
The finance and facilities committee met with representatives from the Montclair PTA Council on Tuesday, getting feedback on how and when to structure a bond issue and what the bond should include.
“We found this community perspective to be very helpful and helpful,” Scherzer said. “During the next period, we will look for ways to get more input, as these are important decisions.”
The committee also asked Ponds about advances in education that could potentially be addressed through bond issuance, Scherzer said.
Table approved a bond advisory contract with McManimon, Scotland and Baumann in January. The next meeting of the Facilities and Finance Committee will be on Monday February 7th.
School board members were hoping to get a facility bond approved by the now-disbanded Board of School Estimates and then by the township board last fall, when Montclair was still a Type I school district. missed out before voters in November approved a change to a Type II district — replacing the mayor’s appointment to the board with an election, adding two new members, eliminating the BoSE and putting the bonds to public referendums. Board members and BoSE members have each said at times they are waiting to hear from the other body, delaying talks until the change in school district type renders them without object.