FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Click on the questions below to get answers about the Merriam Avenue Expansion Referendum.
Why close Halsted?
Why expand at Merriam?
What are the school district's enrollment projections?
What has the school district done to provide tax relief?
What impact would school consolidation have on staffing levels?
What happens if the referendum does not pass?
STEPS TOWARD REFERENDUM
Board of Education approves Merriam Avenue School expansion referendum for September 26, 2017
The Board of Education approved a resolution for a special election to seek voter approval of its School Facilities Consolidation Plan to expand Merriam Avenue School to house grades pK-8 and close Halsted Street School. Both actions have received approval from the New Jersey Department of Education. The referendum proposes $18,693,675 in long-term bonds to pair with $256,326 from the district's capital reserves to fund the $18.95 million total project cost. The State has awarded annual debt service aid of 16.3355% percent, bringing the local debt service cost down to $15,598,097.
Here is a link to the full text of the resolution. Updated versions of the floor plans are reproduced below.
Town of Newton officials endorse School Facilities Consolidation Plan
Members of the Board of Education and Administration presented the School Facilities Consolidation Plan to the Town of Newton Planning Board on Wednesday May 17, 2017. The meeting was productive and brought greater clarity to the project. The next day the Board of Education received a letter confirming that the proposed additions were "not inconsistent with the Town of Newton Master Plan." The letter referenced recommendations from the town engineer. The Board of Education thanks the town officials for their insightful review and cooperative spirit.
A more recent updated version of the site plan was reviewed at the meeting and is reproduced below.
Board of Education presents School Facilities Consolidation Plan
Board leaders, district administrators, and representatives of EI Associates formally presented a School Facilities Consolidation Plan to the public on March 20, 2017. The Board of Education and members of the audience participated in an open dialogue and question and answer session afterward.
School Facilities Consolidation Plan
The plan is a "consolidation" because it is based on moving from three school sites to two. It includes the eventual closing and sale of the Halsted Street School and an expansion of the Merriam Avenue School to house grades preK-8.
Scope of Work & Educational Program
Entire current middle school program will be offered with room for pK-8 growth
Improved scheduling, better equipped classrooms, larger core spaces (gym, cafeteria, library)
Compact design will minimize the overall costs and facilitate student movement
Middle level academic classes will be on separate floor from elementary classrooms
More on-site parking will allow better public access
Community space will allow health and social services to be brought directly into the school
Project Costs & Financial Analysis
Estimated project cost = $18,950,000
Compare this to costs to retrofit Halsted ($17.1M) or build a new middle school ($38.5M)
District will have enough debt capacity to cover costs, state debt service will provide $2.6M
Annual net property tax impact = $182 per $100,000 assessed value (includes 2016 bond refunding)
Timeline & Communication Plan
BOE is considering a referendum vote in September 2017
If approved by the public, new space would be ready for occupancy in September 2019
Communication continues through public presentations to key stakeholders, newsletters, social media, and traditional news media
BACKGROUND ON FACILITIES PLANNING & PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
In 2010, the Board held public discussions about the state of our school facilities. It was decided at that time to continue to use the Halsted Street building as a middle school for at least the next 5-7 years, plan enough to maintain the facility, but not undertake major renovations until there was greater certainty about its future. Among other things, this led to a decision not to place solar panels on Halsted’s roof during the countywide program, as that would have involved a 15 year commitment.
In 2011, the Board hired EI Associates to do a broad facilities assessment study that identified areas in need of improvement and assigned rough costs to those. That report has guided the Board’s work in prioritizing and budgeting for capital projects, leading to measurable improvement in our school facilities over the past five years. (Facilities Assessment Report March 2011)
In 2014, the Sussex County Freeholders received two demographic studies, detailing the history of, and projections for, population and economic changes in the region. Here is an executive summary of those studies. (Demographic Studies Executive Summary). As an established town center, Newton is poised for smart growth within a wider region that has witnessed overall population decline. In the fall, the Board requested and received a zoning analysis from Parette Somjen Architects that identified the parameters in which any potential expansion could occur to our existing facilities. (Zoning Analysis September 2014)
In 2015, the Board agreed to revisit the facilities discussion and build a longer term vision. This included creating a Board goal to develop a strategic school facilities plan.
During the summer of 2015, the Board drafted a facilities analysis to determine areas that were believed to be inadequate for either current or future use. That initial effort identified 34 issues in 26 areas from infrastructure to classrooms to core spaces (gym, cafeteria, library, etc.) to parking and traffic flow. As expected, the needs are in line with the age of the buildings; that is, Halsted exhibited the highest level of needs (rating of 31% facility adequacy), followed by the High School (54%), and then Merriam (85%).
After school opened, the Board invited public input. The analysis and an online survey were posted on the district website, and publicized through social media, alert messages, and the Brave News.
Over approximately six weeks, 75 responses were recorded -- 60% from staff, 23% from parents, and the rest from students and community members (School Facilities Survey Responses Fall 2015)
Over 60% of the respondents agreed with the Board’s analysis. Additional input led to further areas of concern and issues being identified
The school ratings were then revised to 30% adequacy for Halsted, 39% for the High School, and 78% for Merriam (Stakeholder Analysis of School Facilities October 2015)
The Board hired an architectural firm to assign rough costs to the identified areas of inadequacy. EI Associates conducted that task and presented cost estimates publicly on March 8, 2016 (Capital Project Cost Estimates March 2016, see Individual Project Costs below).
The Cost Estimates Report was published on the district website. The Board invited public input about the scenarios and estimates through letter or email as stated above. The scenarios were intended for discussion purposes only, subject to modification based on public input. Community members were encouraged to send their thoughts to the Board of Education in a letter to the district office or by email through our district website.
Scenario 1: Configure grades to make Halsted an elementary school
Convert Halsted Middle School into a pre-K through grade 3 school and Merriam Avenue School into a grade 4 through grade 8 school. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam and the High School as well as projects appropriate for elementary grades at Halsted. Estimated Cost: $27,787,700
Scenario 2: Use Halsted in a more limited capacity
Convert Halsted Middle School into a pre-K center and district offices. Add on to Merriam Avenue School to accommodate Kindergarten through grade 6. Add on to Newton High School to accommodate grade 7 through grade 12. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam, Halsted and the High School. Estimated Cost: $33,431,900
Scenario 3: Keep Halsted as a middle school
Implement identified capital projects at Merriam, Halsted (including new core facilities), and the High School. Estimated Cost: $37,587,700
Scenario 4: Sell Halsted and build a new middle school Construct a new middle school on recently purchased property at West End Avenue contiguous with the High School property to accommodate grade 6 through grade 8 and district offices. Construct a small addition at Merriam to accommodate pre-K through grade 5. Implement identified capital projects at Merriam and the High School. Sell Halsted -- estimated cost does not include the sale value of Halsted, which is unknown at this time. Estimated Cost: $60,998,900
A focus group of those who took the fall survey and offered to participate was held on April 12, 2016.
The Board and members of the public toured the West End Avenue site prior to its regular meeting on April 26, 2016. A special public comment period on school facilities was included on the Board meeting agenda and further discussion was held at the Board's meetings on May 10 and May 24. Members of the community were invited to comment after those discussions as well.
The Board approved $15,000 for EI Associates to conduct a school feasibility study based on the emerging strategic plan on May 15, 2016. The intent was to determine whether the West End Avenue site could support a new school building, how many students could be housed there, and how such a building footprint might best be situated. The Board also authorized the business administrator to arrange for a topographical study of the West End Avenue site and surrounding areas to provide clarity to the school feasibility study.
The Superintendent and Business Administrator met with Town Appraiser Mike Holenstein on June 6, 2016, to walk through the Halsted Street School and informally discuss its condition and potential future uses and value. The Board was briefed on this discussion at its June 28 meeting.
The Board approved the Strategic School Facilities Plan on June 28, 2016, reaching consensus that:
Halsted Street School is not part of our future plans as a school facility. Concerns were expressed about the cost to maintain the facility for non-school use -- offices, community center, special programs, etc.
A new middle school should be constructed on the West End Avenue property. District and CST offices should be planned for the new school or as part of a small addition at Merriam.
A community schools model, which includes space for health and social service providers inside the schools, will be studied in order to inform facility design.
The Plan articulated the following action steps:
Gather information to sharpen the plan by August 2016.
Develop a Newton community schools model by January 2017.
Confirm actual costs for identified facilities projects by March 2017.
Select projects that fit within an approved budget by June 2017.
Propose referendum for selected facilities projects by August 2017.
Begin facilities construction within one year following a successful referendum.
IMPLEMENTING THE STRATEGIC PLAN
August 23, 2016 - EI Associates presented its middle school feasibility study to the Board. Public comments were taken and questions were addressed by the Board. NOTE: This was a conceptual step to address whether the site was suitable for a school building that could meet the intent of the strategic plan. None of the drawings represent any Board approval.
December 13, 2016 - The Board of Education approved EI Associates to conduct a feasibility study of two alternative options: (A) an expansion at Merriam Avenue School to house grades pK-8; and (B) a smaller expansion at Merriam for grades pK-6 plus another at Newton High School to house grades 7-12. This followed information shared and discussed at previous board meetings regarding district debt capacity and potential state aid for facilities, that revealed a wide gap between the costs of a new middle school and the financial resources of the district.
January 24, 2017 - EI Associates presented the Board of Education with the requested conceptual site plans for Options A and B noted above.
February 14, 2017 - The Board of Education reviewed a revised concept plan for Option A (a potential Merriam Avenue School expansion) and approved a letter of intent to have EI Associates begin preparing schematic design and DOE submission documents. It was not a formal vote to expand, though it was clear the Board was continuing to plan in that direction.
February 28, 2017 - The Board of Education approved $50,000 to have EI Associates begin preparing schematic design and DOE submission documents for an expansion of Merriam Avenue School.
March 20, 2017 - Board leaders, district administrators, and representatives of EI Associates formally presented a School Facilities Consolidation Plan to the public. The Board of Education and members of the audience participated in an open dialogue and question and answer session afterward.
ESTIMATED COSTS OF INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS -- projections in thousands
Merriam Avenue School ($4,611)
Construct access drive from Gardner Avenue to improve traffic flow ($40)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Replace casework in original section of building for additional storage ($186)
Construct parking lot accessible from Gardner Avenue ($220)
Install irrigation system and add topsoil to fields ($265)
Replace windows in original section of building ($1,500)
Install central air conditioning in original portion of building ($2,290)
Newton High School ($14,636)
Reconfigure cafeteria serving and food prep areas ($30)
Convert existing tennis/basketball courts to parking area ($63)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Expand nurse’s office ($131)
Expand athletic training rooms ($175)
Upgrade old restrooms ($232)
Replace pneumatic heating controls with modern digital system ($278)
Expand choral room ($296)
Replace folding partition in gymnasium ($340)
Relocate tennis and basketball courts ($420)
Expand cafeteria ($945)
Upgrade athletic practice fields using existing space and new property ($1,000)
Upgrade remaining science labs ($1,218)
Replace windows in all rooms, except in upper E and G levels ($1,548)
Upgrade auditorium HVAC, interiors, and sound/lighting systems ($1,700)
Expand gymnasium ($2,610)
Install central air conditioning ($3,540)
Halsted Middle School ($19,223) -- does not address parking/traffic flow issues
Upgrade finishes in choral room ($82)
Replace some existing lockers and add additional lockers ($97)
Add modular storage building on property ($110)
Relocate nurse’s office ($116)
Replace casework for additional storage ($176)
Mill and pave outdoor physical education area ($295)
Repurpose computer lab to expand library ($345)
Upgrade restrooms with efficient, code compliant fixtures ($405)
Renovate science rooms ($850)
Replace windows in all rooms ($1,107)
Upgrade heating infrastructure - boiler, pneumatic controls ($1,280)
Construct an ADA compliant elevator ($1,594)
Install central air conditioning ($2,116)
Convert existing gymnasium, library and cafeteria into seven classrooms and choral room space, convert existing choral room into classroom. Construct 18,500 sf addition to include a gymnasium, cafeteria, library, and support spaces. ($10,650)
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