Voters give go-ahead to new school building

Memorial School will replace facility damaged in ’08 fire


Despite a still treacherous economy, East Brunswick voters last week approved a referendum to build a new Memorial Elementary School.

The Sept. 29 vote was 2,415 in favor of the $18 million bond; 2,056 against, according to preliminary results released by the Board of Education. Slightly more than 14 percent of the township’s registered voters cast ballots.

The school will actually cost $23.8 million, but thanks to a $4.24 million state grant and $1.62 million in capital reserve funds, residents were only asked to foot $17.96 million of the bill. School officials are also hoping to reach a settlement with the board’s insurance carrier for additional funds that would defray taxpayers’ share.

As it stands, the tax impact of the referendum will be $58 on a home assessed at $100,000. This will appear in the first tax bill received after July 2010.

The new building will be built on Innes Road on the site of the former Memorial School, which was largely destroyed in a July 2008 fire. Memorial students have been housed at the former Corpus Christi School in South River since September 2008.

“I am thankful to the voters for supporting the Memorial School referendum,” Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro said. “Their positive vote will allow us to bring our Memorial children and staff back to our community. We have already begun the steps necessary to get this important construction project under way.”

“I am looking forward to getting our kids back in East Brunswick,” board President Todd Simmens said.

The Board of Education is leasing the former Corpus Christi school building and grounds for $60,493 per month. The district’s insurance company paid for the first year of the lease, and officials said they are pursuing having the insurance company pay for the 2009-10 school year. If insurance covers that cost, the funds will be applied to lower the overall school tax, officials said.

Simmens said he is hopeful that negotiations will be successful so that the students can continue to be housed at Corpus Christi until the new school opens. The schedule calls for breaking ground on the new facility this spring and opening the school by September 2012.

Magistro said that once the district is working to complete building specifications so they can be submitted to the state Department of Education. The district will then solicit bids, award a contract and secure the necessary permits to proceed with construction. The process, she said, will take several months, leading up to construction.

“It is our plan to have the demolition of the fire-damaged school scheduled well before the new construction begins,” she said. “However, before this can be scheduled, the bonds need to be sold and an agreement on the insurance settlement must be reached.”

Simmens said he was optimistic about the referendum’s chance of approval, but noted that no one can ever be certain.

“In this economy, it’s very difficult to ask the taxpayers for money,” he said. “I think we did the best we could to trim the project costs down.”

Simmens credited the work of the East Brunswick Education Association, the MissionMemorial School Committee and other groups for spreading the word about the need for the new school. “It got a lot of votes, and educated people about the vote,” he said.

Board member Vicki Becker was pleased the referendum passed.

“I am thrilled. I think the community made a great choice,” Becker said. “I think people understood what we were saying about how we needed to bring kids back to East Brunswick.”

She credited the Memorial School PTA with doing a great job of getting the message out.

Simmens said the district was awarded the state money because of the situation is an emergency. He said he believes the money is guaranteed.

He said the district is in talks with the insurance company, and that it is common for such issues to take awhile to resolve.

“We hope to avoid litigation,” he said, adding that he could not go into details on the insurance situation.

Going green

Officials hope to incorporate several sustainable components in the new school.

Architect Jeff Venezia said his firm is looking into incorporating items such as a high-efficiency HVAC system that might use geo-thermal, green roof or photovoltaic energy. Occupancy sensors may be used to control lighting, and the school may have low-flow plumbing fixtures, paints that are low in volatile organic chemical, local masonry materials and sustainable floor finishes.

“We will also be recycling both demolition and construction debris, as well as using energy modeling to help assure that the materials utilized to construct the building and the HVAC system work hand in hand so that short-term construction costs are balanced with long-term operating costs,” Venezia said.