On Oct. 17, the Lawrence Board of Education approved a referendum proposal that focuses on two main areas: facilities improvement/maintenance and safety/security.

Facilities Improvement/Maintenance. The district has heard repeatedly the community’s desire for us to provide air conditioning in spaces not currently air conditioned. On hot, humid days, temperatures in some classrooms without air conditioning routinely reach 90 degrees, not an environment that promotes learning. Installing air conditioning is the largest cost in the proposed referendum.

Over the years, the district has added air conditioning to a variety of spaces. Classrooms and other additions from the 2002 referendum were air conditioned and we have installed air conditioning in gyms, classrooms, cafeterias and auditoriums since that time. However, many classrooms remain unusable on hot days. The referendum also improves accessibility within our facilities by providing for the installation of an elevator in the middle school and new ramps for the modular buildings at all four elementaries.

Additionally, facilities maintenance remains a high priority. Boiler replacements at two schools as well as renovations and windows and siding replacement on the modulars are within the referendum. Maintaining facilities protects the public’s investment, increases efficiency, and improves learning.

Safety/Security. One need only to listen to the news media to realize the importance and challenge of keeping our schools as safe and secure as possible. Over the years, we have gradually installed various security measures. What we now take for granted were not in place at one time; even seemingly simple items like locks on all classroom doors so they lock from the inside, staff ID badges and telephones in every classroom were not in place. We have made great progress but need to go further.

Questions and Answers

Will projects be done at all schools?

Yes, work will be done at all seven schools.

What projects are in the referendum?

Install air conditioning in classrooms and spaces not currently air conditioned (all schools); replace boilers and related work (middle and high schools); install elevator to increase accessibility to all floors (middle school); renovate and replace ramps, windows and siding in modular classrooms (four elementary schools); install/replace security access controls, paging, monitoring, and telephone systems (all schools); and install security vestibules in main entrances (Slackwood, Eldridge Park, Intermediate and Middle Schools—other schools already have security vestibules).

When and where is the referendum vote?

Lawrence residents will vote on Jan. 23, 2018 at their standard polling place.

What’s the total cost of the referendum?

The total cost is $25,105,539. The state of New Jersey will pay 40 percent of the costs.

What is the cost to the average taxpayer?

The cost is $30 per year for every $100,000 of assessed home value.

How will the district pay for this?

The district will issue bonds similar to taking out a mortgage or other loan.

Why doesn’t the district just do the construction over time?

The state will only pay 40 percent of the cost if we take a loan for the projects. The state determined that all proposed projects are eligible for state aid.

Why hold a referendum now?

This is a desirable time for a referendum. Structuring new bonds (loans) in layers keeps our debt low and reduces the impact on taxpayers. Currently, the district has little outstanding debt which will decrease from $4.7 million in 2016/2017 to $3.2 million in 2017/2018 to $800,000 in 2023/2024.

How will the referendum affect students, staff and visitors?

Schools will be safer due to better security measures such as security vestibules, alarms when doors are propped open, modern access controls that automatically lock down a building when necessary, paging systems that allow for announcements made remotely and a phone system that will be more efficient and reliable.

The daily environment, specifically air quality, will improve due to temperature control, filtering and air exchange. Elevator installation will provide access to all levels of the middle school for students, staff, and visitors with mobility challenges. Boiler replacements maintain the buildings and provide efficiency and reliability.

Why didn’t the district do these projects rather than installing two turf fields?

With forward thinking and careful planning, we can do both. On the 2012 community survey, athletic programs/facilities ranked very high as one of the areas in most need of improvement. Community members repeatedly requested that we install a turf field and bring our athletic facilities up to par with neighboring districts. Thus, the district saved and ultimately installed two turf fields with one field also having lights.

A project such as this would not be eligible for the state to pay a portion of the costs. The 2016 community feedback ranked air conditioning learning spaces as the area most in need of improvement. While saving for the turf fields, we planned for a referendum that would provide air conditioning. All projects within the proposed referendum are eligible for the state to pay 40 percent of the costs.

Did the district seek public input on the proposed referendum costs?

Yes, areas in which the district solicited and received input include every Back-to-School Night in 2016, our e-newsletter QuickNews and the Community Conversation held Nov. 3, 2016. The BOE also has given updates on the referendum at its monthly meetings during the planning stages.

Have additional questions? Contact Tom Eldridge, business administrator, at teldridge@ltps.org or (609) 671-5420.

Not registered to vote? Get forms in English and Spanish.

You must be registered to vote at least 21 days before an election. Please vote Jan. 23, 2018.

Michelle King is a member of the Lawrence Township Board of Education.