District moving quickly on expansion of schools

Voters approved
$7.6M referendum
on Sept. 30

Staff Writer

Voters approved
$7.6M referendum

on Sept. 30


Staff Writer

WEST LONG BRANCH — School district officials wasted no time in getting on with preparing for construction of a new addition to serve the borough’s two schools and renovations to both facilities after voters approved the $7,645,999 project in the Sept. 30 referendum.

Superintendent Joan Kelly and Dayton Faunce, the business administrator for the Board of Education, were having their kickoff meeting with the professionals involved with the project on Wednesday of last week.

Kelly said they would lay out the "timeline" for construction at the meeting.

"We certainly hope to start by the summer of 2004 and be finished [for the opening of school] in the fall of 2005," she said.

Michael Keszler, president of the Board of Education, said construction won’t start until the funding is in place, and that will be toward the end of this year.

"We will look to see if anything can be accomplished while school is in session," he added. "That’s difficult because of safety concerns, but we’re looking at spring — when the break occurs — to start some of the smaller aspects of the project. The [major] construction will start at the close of this school year. We hope to have everything completed by the 2005 school year."

The referendum was passed 818 to 574, according to unofficial returns.

By approving the project, voters agreed to shoulder $5,538,462 of the costs through school district bonds. The other $2,107,537 share will be picked up by the state through the Educational Facilities and Construction Act.

The central element of the project is construction of a new 18,500-square-foot one-story addition, which will be connected to both the Frank Antonides and Betty McElmon schools, with a media center/library to serve all grades from K-8, two computer labs, an art room, a music room with three small chambers off it, three classrooms and a small group instruction room.

There also will be renovations at the Frank Antonides and Betty McElmon schools and improvements to ball fields and other recreation facilities.

Voters also approved a second question on the ballot authorizing the refinancing of the remaining debt on the Betty McElmon School, which opened in 1991, to take advantage of today’s lower interest rates.

Faunce has said the refinancing, which does not extend the debt beyond its present 2009 retirement date, will save the school district $640,000.

The refinancing question was passed by a wider 1,057 to 312-vote margin.

A total of 1,345 of the 4,772 registered voters in the borough cast ballots in the election, or a little over 28 percent.

Kelly, who worked with an ad hoc committee made up of representatives of all sectors of the community to develop the expansion and renovation proposal ultimately put to the voters, credited the success of the referendum to getting accurate information out to everyone in the borough and answering their questions when they had them. She said two informational pieces were mailed to homes and supporters would speak to anyone who invited them.

"We had a bond hotline," she added. "Someone would get back to the callers within 24 hours with answers to their questions."

Asked how the students will benefit from the school improvements, Kelly said, "First of all we will have the instructional spaces for many of our programs that now either are on carts or share space or look for any spaces that are available from day to day and move around from spot to spot."

Secondly, she said, students at Frank Antonides School, which houses grades 4-8, will benefit from the extensive renovations there, and all students in both schools will benefit from improvements to the grounds.

The site improvements include regrading athletic fields and installation of a new irrigation system to address current drainage problems in them, installation of new playground equipment and demolition and reconstruction of the tennis courts, now closed for safety reasons, and the basketball court.

Kelly said residents can check with the Board of Education’s Web site — wlbschools.com — throughout the process to see what’s going on and when.

"We’re very pleased with the support we got from the voters of West Long Branch," she said.

Keszler said there were a lot of happy people and smiling faces in the school district after the project was approved in the election.

"A lot of work had gone into the plan, so we have a very good idea what we want. This gives us the opportunity to get there," he said. "And with Dr. Kelly in the superintendent’s spot, I feel confident that we will get there.

"She put in untold hours and effort and energy to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling," he added. "It is truly a feather in her cap.

"We’re just extremely pleased," he said, "that the voters in West Long Branch agreed with our proposal."