The nearly $160 million, once-in-a-generation upgrade and renovation of public school buildings in Maplewood and South Orange is approaching the halfway point.
South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education Finance Chair Thair Joshua said that four bidders vied for the second of three tranches of bonds, valued at $60 million, which sold on October 22.
In the current low-interest environment, the school district was able to borrow the funds at 2.33 percent from Morgan Stanley — “better than our expected 2.5 percent,” Joshua said at Monday’s virtual meeting.
Last month, South Orange-Maplewood School District business administrator Paul Roth estimated that low interest rates would translate into a cost savings of about $700,000 for the Long Range Facilities Plan’s (LRFP).
The capital-improvement plan will fund an expansion of classroom space in all the elementary schools to accommodate a growing student population, help achieve racial and socioeconomic integration and address long-standing maintenance issues. Approved in July 2019, the LRFP also includes adding central air conditioning to all school buildings and new turf for two athletic fields.
“The $60 million will hit the account early November,” Joshua said, adding that bidding for the construction work is expected to take place in December.
The construction plans for Marshall and South Mountain elementary schools, as well as the Montrose Early Childhood Learning Center are expected to be up for review in December, Joshua said, with the work up for bids “hopefully in the new year.”
In response to a question from Village Green about when work might begin, Roth said on Tuesday, “Assuming no delays in the process, work would begin around the April/May timeframe.”
Given the snafu that contributed to the SOMSD last month postponing a partial return to in-person schooling, Joshua also provided an update on the status of classroom ventilation filters on order.
“The supply of filters will cover the remainder of the school year,” Joshua said. “Normally, filters are changed three times a year, so we will have a supply available for that. And walkthroughs will be scheduled after each building’s work is completed by the construction management company that we’ve brought on.”
Last month, Superintendent Ronald Taylor announced that a recently announced plan for bringing students and teachers back to the classroom on a part-time basis in mid-November had to be pushed back after the school district discovered that ventilation units had not been replaced or were missing. The episode drew criticism from several BOE members and candidates running for the three open seats on the nine-person board.
Grants and Donations
Joshua discussed grants and donations included in finance resolutions before the BOE.
- The Parenting Center received $11,500 from the Barham Family Foundation ($10,000) and the St. George’s Episcopal Church ($1,500.00). Also, the center’s director, Karen Weiland, is retiring in February after 25 years.
- The school district received a $32,356.26 grant from the New Jersey School Boards Association Insurance Group “to be used for plant safety, building security, safety equipment and training.”
- The school district also received a $10,000 donation from the Barham Family Foundation for the Beyond the Bell Afterschool Program.
- The Board of Education received a $324,000 Alyssa’s Law Compliance grant to install emergency notification systems in schools.