During the past four years, the WW-P board of education and district administration has monitored residential growth in both West Windsor and Plainsboro Townships, conducted a demographic study, conducted a capacity study, and reviewed facility needs. Residential growth is upon us and our school facilities are already stretched. Three weeks ago, the West Windsor Township Council approved a settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center. This settlement meets the 1,500 affordable housing units by approving 3,678 growth residential units (primarily apartments and townhomes). Plainsboro Township has also approved 498 growth residential units.
The impact of 4,176 residential units (3,632 that will yield school age children) over the next three to 10 years is substantial and it demands that we take immediate action in order to ensure that our school district maintains its excellence.
The goal of the referendum is to build the facilities to address the needs of today and the growth of tomorrow while simultaneously being respectful and mindful of the tax impact on our community.
WW-P has reached a tipping point where the competing needs of capacity, programs, and costly capital projects are beyond our ability to manage without long-term debt. With this comes the recognition that we are able to obtain significant state aid to help pay for projects that are funded with long-term debt in the form of a referendum.
Hence, the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District has developed short-term and near-term plans for managing larger facilities projects, current capacity issues and expected enrollment growth due to new housing.
Enrollment growth is undeniable
We have conservatively estimated the addition of 1,784 students over the anticipated period of growth. To put that into perspective, that would be equivalent to adding enough students to fill another High School South plus add an additional 200 students to the school district in the next three to ten years.
Complicating this scenario further is the fact that 8 of 10 schools are over capacity today. Programmatic impacts and restrictions on course offerings are being felt at the high school level today. Future course restrictions, such as the ability for students to take multiple science courses, are evident.
Additionally, there are major facility challenges today that require immediate attention. Of greatest concern is the HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems in High School North, Millstone River and Wicoff Elementary School. Furthermore, additional classrooms are necessary to accommodate the residential growth. The referendum serves to maintain the excellence expected in our school community.
At the epicenter of the majority of growth is the residential path of Maurice Hawk to Village to Grover Middle School to High School South. Any parent whose children will attend school along this school sending path must recognize the immediacy of the concern.
However, we cannot forget that due to school sending paths, West Windsor residents attend school in Plainsboro and Plainsboro residents attend school in West Windsor. We are one school district and the growth on one side of the school district impacts all of our district schools.
Furthermore, it is critical to remember that if approved, the referendum will take between three to five years to complete. Therefore, a student in first grade at either Dutch Neck or Maurice Hawk could expect the planned addition at Grover to be complete by the time they enter sixth grade.
Absent the additional classroom space we can anticipate class sizes in the mid-30s and above, as well as programmatic restrictions in the future. A vote for the referendum serves to ensure academic excellence and programmatic opportunities for our students.
Overview of referendum projects
On Nov. 6, the WW-P board of education brings forward a referendum to the voters in Plainsboro and West Windsor. The referendum question asks voters to approve the bonding of $114.875 million for additions, renovations and rehabilitation projects.
The proposed referendum focuses upon four areas: life safety; air quality; programmatic needs; and short and near term enrollment growth. Through the referendum, all 10 schools will be positively impacted.
The referendum will address challenges being presented due to residential growth, necessary facility improvements, and classroom capacity needs (for current students).
The referendum serves to maintain the excellence expected in our school community while being mindful of the impact to tax payers. Due to the utilization of several funding mechanisms, the WW-P board of education is able to deliver a $114.87 million referendum with a zero tax impact on the debt portion of the budget.
Referendum projects focus on the addition of 22 academic classrooms to address capacity and short/near term enrollment growth. Further, the referendum adds 25 science classrooms with labs to the middle schools and High School South.
Furthermore, programmatic additions/renovations occur to performing arts: music, dance, theater; technology/robotics; culinary arts; and media centers/learning centers.
The referendum also addresses critical capital projects including security enhancements, fire alarm upgrades, and indoor air quality projects at identified facilities.
In order to maximize our existing facilities and manage previous residential growth (for example, the addition of Princeton Terrace) the district has already funded major construction projects at Village Elementary School in 2015.
Currently, the board of education has moved forward with expansions at Maurice Hawk (2018) and Town Center (2018). These projects were completed using capital reserve funds and resulted in no additional debt for the taxpayers. Completion of these projects through capital reserve funds saved taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments.
The vast number of facility projects and the anticipated student growth requires immediate action by the school district in order to be prepared to address the concerns of today and the residential growth of tomorrow.
The referendum includes projects at High School South ($27.42 million), High School North ($17.54 million), Community Middle School ($38.91 million), Grover Middle School ($10.43 million), Millstone ($9.05 million), Village ($1.14 million), Dutch Neck ($1.65 million), Maurice Hawk ($675,000), Town Center ($947,000) and Wicoff ($7.08 million).
Dutch Neck improvements: new security vestibule; renovations to media center; student and staff bathrooms; upgrades to front entrance, including bollards and paving; and upgrade to fire alarm system.
Maurice Hawk improvements: renovations to media center; and upgrade to fire alarm system. Note: Maurice Hawk received renovations and additional classrooms in summer 2018, including a new security vestibule.
Town Center improvements: new security vestibule; renovations to media center; and upgrade to fire alarm system. Note: WW-P allocated capital reserve funding for 10 new classrooms in fall 2018.
Wicoff improvements: new security vestibule; addition for four kindergarten classrooms; child study team offices; new student and faculty bathrooms; renovations to media center, guidance, existing faculty and student bathrooms; upgrade to fire alarm system; and upgrade to HVAC and improvements to classroom ventilation systems.
Millstone River improvements: new security vestibule; renovations to media center; new generator; upgrade to fire alarm system; and upgrade to HVAC and improvements to classroom ventilation systems.
Village improvements: new security vestibule; renovations to media center; new generator; and upgrade to fire alarm system. Note: Village received renovations and additional classroom space in 2015. Also, Village will gain four additional rooms as the pre-K classes will move to Maurice Hawk when completed.
Community improvements: new security vestibule; addition for three classrooms; 11 science classrooms; new gym and locker rooms, music room, media center, small group instruction rooms and expansion of cafeteria; renovations to auditorium, robotics classroom and tech lab space, main office, music rooms, child study team offices and nurse’s office; renovations to front driveway and parking areas; upgrade to fire alarm system; and new generator.
Grover improvements: new security vestibule; addition for six classrooms, six science classrooms, four resource rooms; and new generator.
HS North improvements: new security vestibule; renovations to media center and culinary arts room; addition for performing arts space and dance studio; replacement of HVAC systems and updates to electrical systems.
HS South improvements: new security vestibule; addition for eight science labs, four classrooms, robotics space and dance studio; new main entrance and reconfiguration of front driveway; renovations to playhouse (small theater), main office, child study team and guidance offices, media center, tech lab space, culinary arts room and early childhood classroom; upgrade to fire alarm system; and new generator.
Financing the referendum
Using capital reserve funds, state aid and declining debt, WW-P has positioned itself to pay for this referendum without adding any additional cost burden to the taxpayers. The ZERO tax impact on the debt portion of the budget is accomplished through several mechanisms:
- Expiring debt. In 2022, 2026 and 2028 debt will be expiring from prior approved public referendums.
- State Aid. Eligible referendum projects are funded at 40 percent state aid. Eligible projects in this referendum total $64 million of which the state will contribute $25.77 million toward the total value of the referendum projects. This aid will be provided to the district proportionally over twenty years.
- Capital Reserves. The district will utilize capital reserve funds on hand to cover monies above the existing debt payment of $7.7 million.
Therefore, the debt payment out of the general fund will not increase and the capital reserves account will be drawn down to pay for facility projects identified in the referendum.
Further, the school district submitted all projects to the state of N.J. for their review and approval. Based upon the state’s funding formula the school district has been able to secure $25.77 million in debt service aid on referendum projects.
This funding source is only available if we go to referendum. The facility needs and the impending residential growth are well documented. Remember, the goal of the referendum is to build the facilities to address the needs of today and the growth of tomorrow while simultaneously being respectful and mindful of the tax impact on our community.
State Aid Calculation for the Entire Project: Although the state has approved aid in the amount of $25.77 million, the school district is still required to bond the entire $114.87 million. State aid is provided to the district over a 20-year period in the form of debt service relief. This is why the amount listed on the ballot question is $114,875,000.
The referendum question
The referendum question is divided into two paragraphs. Paragraph #1 defines the total cost of the projects (rehabilitations/renovations/additions) for a total value of $114,875,000.
Paragraph #2 defines the “eligible projects” for state aid as determined by the facilities efficiency standards. This paragraph defines the state’s contribution towards the total cost of the referendum.
The second paragraph only contains project costs based on the state’s model cost of $143 per sq./ft. for new construction or 40 percent of the cost of rehabilitation. This is how the state determined it will contribute $25.77 million or 22.5 percent of the total referendum.
The referendum question defines eligible and “not otherwise eligible” projects. There is a third component not identified in the referendum question.
“Excess costs” are defined as the cost of the new construction greater than $143 per square foot. The “excess costs” are not excessive but rather pay for a percentage of the very same projects identified in the referendum.
All projects identified in the referendum must be constructed. However, the exact cost of any one project cannot be determined until construction occurs.
Some projects may come in under projected cost, while others may come in over. The referendum question allows for the transfer of funds between projects to ensure that all projects are built properly.
However, the only projects that can be undertaken are ones approved by the State of N.J. Department of Facilities, which are approved at the passage of the referendum.
Unexpended bond proceeds shall be used to pay down the principal portion of the debt service after completion of the project in accordance with state law. Simply, unexpended funds pay off the bond and cannot be used for other projects or costs.
Our school district is a point of pride in our community. Our residents move to WW-P due to the reputation of the West Windsor and Plainsboro Townships, the proximity to transportation and employment opportunities, and the strength of the school district.
The district consistently provides an outstanding educational experience for students as evidence on every conceivable measure and ranking agency. The excellence of the school district is an outcome of purposeful planning executed over time.
While residential growth will create challenges, our educators stand prepared to deliver on the promise of empowering all learners to thoughtfully contribute to a diverse and changing world with confidence, strength of character, and love of learning.
As our community grows we ask the voters to consider the needs of the school district. Additional information can be found on the district website, including a series of videos explaining the referendum.
You can watch individual segments or watch the entire video through the links on the website. The WWreferendum video link is: youtube.com/watch?v=REHWD8fgKKc.
Additional information can be found on the WW-P website under: About Us/Referendum 2018.
The final informational sessions on the referendum is scheduled to be held on Thursday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the Board of Education Office. The referendum vote will take place on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please exercise your right to vote.
David Aderhold is superintendent of the WW-P Regional School District.