Local cost of school just shy of $18M

E.B. superintendent: Time is now to build new Memorial


East Brunswick residents will be asked to approve a $17.96 million bond referendum to build a new Memorial Elementary School this September.

The new facility, which will replace the building devastated in a July 2008 fire, will actually cost $23.8 million, but that is being defrayed by a $4.24 million state grant and $1.62 million in capital reserve monies remaining from prior projects.

“To build a school in this day and age at $17.9 million is really … a very reasonable amount to bring to the community,” Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro said Friday.

School officials were originally looking at a building plan that would cost $27.9 million, but brought that down in recent months mainly by reducing the overall square footage, while keeping the same amount of instructional space.

“We tightened up the plan. … By bringing the school closer together, you save on the cost of construction,” Magistro said, adding that money was also saved by designing the second floor to be directly on top of the first, with no areas jutting off. “It was just design issues that saved money. But the overall instructional square footage was not changed.”

The tax impact of the referendum would be approximately $58 per year on a home assessed at $100,000.

Board of Education President Todd Simmens noted that the capital reserve monies, or funds leftover from other grant-funded capital projects, helped to bring down the local taxpayers’ share.

The taxpayers’ share, Magistro said, may be further reduced with proceeds from the school district’s insurance carrier, since officials are still awaiting word on that figure. The insurance company, she said, is covering the first-year cost of leasing the former Corpus Christi School in South River, where Memorial students have been housed since last September. Magistro said the district is awaiting word on whether the carrier will cover the lease for the next school year, and how much it will give for the new building.

Magistro said school officials have dealt with continuous delays and postponements in trying to meet with representatives of the insurance carrier in order to learn what the school district can expect in payments.

“So, we’ve turned it over to our board attorney to get us a number already,” Magistro said. “We just feel like that’s one of the main questions our community wants to know: ‘How much are they [the insurance company] going to give?’And we haven’t gotten an answer from them. Now it’s in the attorney’s hands to get that information for us.”

Insurance money that comes in for the new building will be used to reduce the debt on the project, she said.

The Board of Education, which reviewed plans for the new school on July 9, is expected to officially authorize the referendum later this month. The building plan will then be presented to the township Planning Board on Aug. 19.

If approved by voters in September, the new building will be constructed on the site of the old facility, on Innes Road, and scheduled to open in September 2012. If the referendum fails, the board will hold a second referendum this December. If that is rejected, the board would then appeal to the state education commissioner to approve the building. However, there is a year-plus wait for such decisions from the state, meaning the school would likely not open until late 2014 under that scenario.

Approving the referendum in September will serve both to have the new school open sooner and keep the costs down, officials said. The present economy has driven down contractors’ bid prices.

“One of the big things that we can move on is the fact that construction prices are low, and the longer we hold off on doing this the more it’s going to cost. This is really the time to do this,” Magistro said.

The school board has indicated that it would cost $3 million more to repair the existing school, and members have said it does not make sense to put money into a building that is 53 years old. The school has long been slated to receive additions and renovations, but for cost reasons was omitted from the 2004 referendum that brought improvements to the Central, Lawrence Brook and Hammarskjold schools.

The new plan for Memorial will include state-mandated pre-school rooms and special education rooms to bring some out-ofdistrict students back into the township, saving on tuition costs.

“There will always be students who will be out-of-district placements because of the nature of the disability … but we do have students that, if given the room, we could develop programs to enable them to come back into their community,” Magistro said. “… Our thing has been to not only replicate what they get outside [of East Brunswick] but make it even better. And it’s still at a savings. There used to be a cap on out-of-district placement tuition, but the state has removed that, which means that each year it can go up and up and up, and we have no control over what their tuition costs are. So [educating more students in-district] will certainly save money.”

Simmens said the new school will be two stories, with publicly used areas such as the gymnasium and cafetorium at the front of the building, near Innes Road.

“And there will be a lot of light, a lot of natural light, and we are looking at solar panels,” Simmens said.

The new building will better suit the student enrollment, with a handful of additional classrooms, and will be up to code, he said.

“The classrooms will be what they need to be in terms of size,” Simmens said. There will be a small increase.

Magistro said she is hopeful voters will see the need both for the new school building and to approve the project sooner rather than later.

“The students need to be brought back to their community,” she said. “We as an overall community need to work together on this. It’s not just a Memorial community issue. The children in our community are all of our responsibility. This is the time to do it.”

Staff writer Vincent Todaro contributed to this story.