A rendering of the proposed High School fitness addition.
OCEAN TOWNSHIP:District officials are asking the public to vote Dec. 9 on a $28.9 million bond referendum to put additions onto some of its schools and upgrade others, in a package of improvements that include new space for arts, athletics and classroom instruction.
Under the plan, several of the schools would have additions built: six classrooms to Wayside Elementary, a gymnasium and art/music rooms at Wanamassa, and two additions at the high school. One would add a physical performance and wellness center to the high school, bringing the total gymnasiums there to two, and a second addition would give the high school a performing arts addition with a black box theater and instruction space.
A portion of the $28.9 million is to put HVAC systems in the schools, to not just turn buildings that are unbearably hot into ones with temperature regulation, but also to improve ventilation, said Superintendent James Stefankiewicz and School Business Administrator Ken Jannarone, who led a public information session on the referendum Wednesday.
Attended by around 100 residents, parents, teachers and school staff, the Wednesday session itemized why the school district was embarking on the projects, and what the projects included. A public comment session fielded about a dozen questions from the public about when construction would start if approved, the project's financials, and how the current and changing demographics of the student population could impact the district.
School officials said the reasons for pitching the referendum now are both to prevent the district from falling behind its peers in updating aging facilities, and because the district's payments of previous bond debt will soon be gone. Taking on new debt with a bonding referendum would mean no additional tax burden, Jannarone said.
School Board President Sylvia Sylvia said the referendum's first purpose is to provide the improved facilities students need to best learn. "What can we do to make it the best learning environment," Sylvia said.
Stefankiewicz said the district needs to do that, but with fiscal responsibility, saying the referendum focuses on "core facilities" instead of "pie in the sky" plans, added Jannarone.
"The buildings are mature," said the superintendent. The plans would give the buildings things new to the district but that are commonplace elsewhere, Stefankiewicz said. "We are the only district in the Shore Conference with one gym," he said. Regarding a black box theater at the high school, "these are staples in newly constructed high schools for the last 5 to 10 years now."
Each of the district schools have projects funded in the referendum's bonding.
The $15.4 million High School project would build an addition for performing arts (a black box theater, classrooms, and renovated music rooms); renovations to the existing auditorium; a two-story addition for physical fitness and an additional gymnasium, with classrooms; and HVAC upgrades.
The $6.4 million Wanamassa Elementary project is for the addition of a gymnasium and an art/music room, renovation of multipurpose room/cafeteria, upgrades to the playground and parking, installation of HVAC and sound amplification equipment.
The $3.4 million Wayside Elementary project is for an addition of six small group instruction classrooms, renovation of art and music rooms, the cafeteria serving area, and HVAC upgrades.
The $1.9 million Ocean Elementary School project is for art and music room upgrades, HVAC upgrades, and sound amplification equipment.
The $1.75 million Intermediate School project is for science lab upgrades, sound amplification equipment, and the HVAC upgrades.
School officials said the district began the referendum process about three years ago, investigating the needs of each building, creating demographics studies, and crunching the financial numbers. But the plans as presented Wednesday as still just conceptual designs, Jannarone said. "What we're presenting are ideas, what you see on the display boards are not the final architectural renderings," he said. Those plans are more in-depth, and would come if and when the public approves the referendum, he said. "We'd still have all the work of blue prints, approvals, submittals to the department of education."
The district is planning additional information sessions, such as another Meet the Superintendent session and presenting at PTA meetings. Officials said further details from the Wednesday presentation would be on the school district's website, http://ocean.k12.nj.us.
The referendum vote is 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. December 9 at regular polling locations.