Students in Robbinsville can look forward to a bit more breathing room in two years, thanks to new school construction approved by township voters.
The $18.9 million referendum approved by voters,1,529-1,042, in December will allow expansions at Pond Road Middle School and Sharon Elementary School to relieve overcrowding.
The 29 new classrooms and other projects are set to take at least a year to complete.
Superintendent Steve Mayer said the schools will still be crowded in the meantime.
“One more year until we can move the fourth grade back to the Sharon School,” Mayer said.
For now, the district will have plans drawn up for the projects’ designs and put them out for bid.
Plans call for the Sharon School to receive 24 new classrooms within a new two-story addition, plus a second gym and an expanded kitchen and multipurpose room. Older classrooms will be upgraded with new lighting, windows, floors and ceilings.
The Pond Road School will get five additional classrooms and an expanded kitchen and cafeteria.
“We hope to bid this spring for the two cafeterias and the additional classrooms at the Pond Road School and the plans for the addition at the Sharon School,” Mayer said. “We’d like to finish the cafeteria and classroom expansion for Pond Road by September 2013, and the addition at the Sharon School by September 2014.”
The school district would like to complete the projects with as little disruption to students’ classes as possible. Work will be done mostly in the summer, Mayer said, although he added that some surveying work could take place during the school year.
He said he expects the comparatively late opening scheduled for the 2013-2014 school year to help minimize disruption. Mayer said the schools won’t open until Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, a week after Labor Day, allowing a bit more time for workers to reach their construction goals.
School officials have said the need for the improvements to relieve current overcrowding as well as a growing student population has been apparent for years in Robbinsville, but whether voters would agree to increase their own property taxes by spending nearly $19 million on the upgrades was not a sure thing. Voters in 2010 rejected a referendum asking for $39.6 million to fund the construction of a brand new intermediate school plus upgrades at existing schools.
“These are not the easiest economic times,” Mayer said.
He acknowledged that asking voters to fund the cost of expansion and improvements is “asking for a bit of a sacrifice.”
He said the sacrifice will pay off.
“It’s an expense worth paying because of the upside return benefit to the school district and how our school district is able to perform,” he said.
Much of the benefit, once projects have been completed, will be the return of some students to regular classrooms, rather than the improvised learning areas where they obtain part of their education now. Some students are given music instruction in hallways while other groups, in lesser numbers, receive special instruction in closets. Class size has increased by 15 percent over the past several years, Mayer said in an interview before the referendum went to voters last month.
To relieve the cramped quarters for current and incoming students, voters agreed to pay more in school taxes. For example, the owner of a house assessed at $400,000 will pay $192.40 more a year.
Homeowners whose property values are higher or lower will face corresponding increases. For example, a homeowner whose property is assessed at $800,000 will pay $384.80 more a year, or $32.07 a month more. The owner of a house assessed at $200,000 will pay $96.20 more a year, or $8.02 a month more.