School district officials and school board members talked about the need for school capital improvements at the Princeton Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night without mentioning the “r” word — referendum.
Voters would have to weigh in on borrowing more money for improvements through a bond referendum. The last referendum for about $27 million was passed less than three years ago in December of 2018.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Galasso said during the board meeting Wednesday that the district’s special consultant on facilities for the past few years, Milone & MacBroom, has merged with the company SLR. Galasso said a facilities working group has been meeting for the past 18 months. For the next year and a half, the working group will be engaging with the board, the new administration, and the public about top priorities that include building maintenance and capital improvements.
Galasso said high priority major maintenance needs will be identified over the next few months, including roofs and facades. He said funding capital improvements would be a “win-win situation” because the state would pay for 30 to 34 cents on the dollar for improvements. The taxpayers would foot the rest of the bill.
The high school will have an enrollment of between 1,800 and 1,900 students over the next few years, Galasso said, adding that the school board and district officials will have a “full engagement” with the community over the next six months about how to accommodate the students will be there.
“The good news is, the middle school, with the schedule change, has a functional capacity of over 900 students,” Galasso said. “It more than meets enrollment needs. We will watch for one year and make a decision on whether core facilities need to be improved or the current ones are acceptable.”
Galasso said the four elementary schools have high priority maintenance needs, including new roofs and facades. “Enrollment seems to be flat the next four or five years, even with new housing,” Galasso said. He said district officials need to “talk philosophically” about the type of elementary program district officials want to offer.
The comments about enrollment paint a much different picture than was presented prior to the previous referendum. Originally, the school board wanted to ask voters to consider a $130 million bond referendum to accommodate projected enrollment growth. The referendum would have included a new administration building at Thanet Circle and a new school on the site of the Valley Road administration building. The school board even considered buying Westminster Choir College, a plan board leaders have since said during election campaigns is no longer being considered.
A school district bond will be paid off by the taxpayers in the next year or so. Galasso said that would mean there is an opportunity to upgrade “without impacting taxpayers.”
“The board now has the data necessary to have meaningful conversations with the community at large,” Galasso said.
School Board President Beth said the “roadmap is high level at this time” and the board will be coming to the public with more information.