Ocean City school board approves March referendum for primary school repairs

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Ocean City school board approves March referendum for primary school repairs Ocean City school board approves March referendum for primary school repairs

OCEAN CITY — Ocean City voters will be asked to approve a referendum for upgrades to the Ocean City Primary School this spring, but the exact dollar amount in the referendum is not yet known.

Taking the advice offered by their bond counsel, members of the Ocean City Board of Education unanimously opted to set the date for a special school election on March 11, 2014, rather than Sept. 30, during its Wednesday, Dec. 11 meeting.

Ocean City was one of six school districts in Cape May County to receive a Regular Operating District grant funding for school facility projects on Dec. 4.

Ocean City will receive $2.4 million, but interim school business administrator Mark Ritter said the school district had not yet been officially or unofficially notified for what exactly the state funding was earmarked.

On Thursday, Dec. 5, Ritter said the district was notified of a ROD grant for part of the primary school project that involves exterior doors. The grant was for 40 percent, or $45,000, of the $113,000 project.

According to DOE spokesman Richard Vespucci, the DOE Office of School Facilities has not yet sent correspondence to Ocean City for the bulk of the ROD grant money it will receive.

“The bulk of the money for Ocean City will go towards replacing the windows and the roofing systems of the elementary school,” Vespucci said.

In addition to a new roof, windows and doors, the primary school needs new a heating and cooling system, plumbing and electrical systems. The estimated cost of these items is $6.6 million.

“In 2015, we hope to get the projects at the primary school done, which are long overdue,” Ritter said. “We don’t have the money to do everything, so a bond referendum is necessary.”

While the needs at the primary school are pressing, Ocean City High School is also in need of an estimated $2.9 million-upgrade to the heating and air-conditioning system. 

Construction on the 232,000-square-foot high school was completed in 2004. The building has had ongoing issues with the HVAC system ever since.

Ritter said the board would use the district’s capital reserve fund to finance the high school project in the summer of 2014 and pay for the primary school renovations through a combination of state grant funding and the bond referendum.

While the district awaits word of which projects are covered under the $2.4 million ROD grant, Ritter advised that the district schedule a bond referendum.

“The plan was all along to go in September 2014,” he said of the referendum.

In New Jersey, bond referendums are restricted to five dates spread through the calendar year – in January, February, March, September and December. However, bond counsel Ron Ianone, suggested an earlier date to take advantage of low interest rates and low construction costs.

“He said, ‘If I were you, I would do it in March rather than September,’ so here we are,” Ritter said.

He said a March referendum would make for a very busy January and February “to get the ball rolling.”

“It’s very doable to get it done,” Ritter said. “This community is very open with finances. This project does not surprise anyone.”
He said that the district should hold public information meetings to discuss the details.

Board members debated the timing. Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said September would provide for more time to get bid specifications together.

Ritter said he thought that March was feasible, but some board members wondered how the district could move forward without knowing what they were asking the community to approve. Ritter said there was plenty of time as the wording on the ballot needs to be completed 30 days before the election.

“Ron (Ianone) was fairly forceful in saying to go to March,” he said.  

“September is a hectic time, it could get lost,” said board President Brenda Moiso. “In March, there is not a lot going on. This is why we brought it to the board, to see what your thoughts are.”

Board members concurred.

During public comment after the vote, resident Vic Staniec said the members of the executive board of Fairness in Taxes, and most likely the membership as well, supported the renovations at the primary school. Staniec is FIT’s education liaison.

“On the other hand, the $2.9 million necessary to improve the HVAC system at Ocean City High School, we are totally confused,” he said. “We don’t understand this.”

Staniec noted that the HVAC system at the high school had not functioned properly since it was installed.

“We are upset about paying for it once, and now a second time,” he said. “We feel the people responsible for this should have to pay for this.”

Recently, the school district took legal action against a contractor responsible for installing the floor of the auditorium, which was found to be improperly installed. The district won the case. Staniec suggested that the school district should take the same route once again.

“We are upset to pay $2.9 million for a system that has never performed properly,” he said.

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