Though a new total was not recalculated, the Board of Education (BOE) struggled to reduce the cost of the PW District's school facilities plan even further at its Jan. 18 meeting. (At the Jan. 13 meeting, Turner Construction announced the total cost was $64.5 million.) After reviewing these additional changes, some Board members, particularly school board president Richard Sussman, expressed great concern that a bond that exceeded $50 million would not pass. Still, others commented that with public education detailing the necessity and soundness of the current plans, a bond still $20 million less than last year's failed bond, and unanimous board support, the community would understand the need and support it. A public forum scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 23, might shed some light on the community's sentiments.
Among the most recent reductions explained were the following:
-Cutting Weber middle school costs from $18 million to $17.73 million, by deleting some rooms, adding square footage to classrooms, and substituting more standard portables instead of customized ones. Six portables will be purchased, not leased, for the middle school.
-Reducing expenditures at Schreiber High School from $24.9 million to $21.435 million.
Some kitchen, servery area, and cafeteria renovations were cut, with some minor work retained; other items were cut as well.
-The cost of reopening Salem as an elementary school was cut from $11.29 million, to $10 million.
-Changes to Manorhaven can total $2.5 million or $1.72 million, without gym costs. School principal Dr. Linda Wells pointed out that "whatever size gym you give us, we will be scheduling two classes at a time in the gym."
The Daly school, however, saw costs rise to $7.8 million, up from the previous estimate of $5.97 million. Square footage was added to classrooms, and the school will house the pre-kindergarten program. Costs for improvements at Guggenheim rose slightly, from $2.18 million to $2.58 million, while costs for Sousa were not discussed at this meeting. Regarding upgrading technology across the district, Mark Steinberger indicated that he had developed a comprehensive plan that included upgrades and capacity for the future. This added approximately $1 million to earlier numbers.
Several board members expressed concern for the need for improved physical education facilities across the district, for students and for the community. Some suggested having a separate athletic enhancement bond. School board member Alan Baer mentioned that having a big gym at Schreiber would mean students would not have to be bused elsewhere. Feeling that community athletic groups would support this purpose, school board member Peter Wezenaar suggested increasing the bond by $800,000 for gyms. The exact costs will be determined, and the board voted unanimously in favor of proceeding with this idea.
But many on the school board worried that a bond exceeding $50 million would fail. "I think we are making a mistake," said Richard Sussman. He said that costs beyond the $50 million mark should be packaged in a separate, enhancement bond. "For fifty, I'd go out and make sure it passes," Sussman stated. "It is up to the administration, what to cut out, to get it to $50 million," he added. "I love the idea, but tell me how..." replied BOE member Dean Nardone. Superintendent Dr. Al Inserra commented that he wasn't sure "how to get the $15 million out, into another bond." "Who created the number 50?" asked school board VP Bob Ferro, pointing out that "between the $35 million proposed last year and the $87 million bond, we are right in the middle now." BOE member Julie Meyer suggested asking the community, and then shared the feedback she's been hearing. "People have commented that they see it as a realistic number," she related. "People looked at this plan, and would vote for it...they see it as a good plan...they are impressed with the new architects too." "I think it will pass," said school board member John Zimmerman, at a later point in the discussion, adding, "as long as no one campaigns against it."
Suggestions to offer a short-term solutions bond in May, should the long-term facilities bond fail, were countered with the problem of timing. Even if the former was approved by the public, it would not go through until next January, months after it is urgently needed.
After Wezenaar stated "I'm for putting up the $64 million bond, perhaps with a short-term bond too. If it fails, in three months, we'll put a $50 million bond up," Sussman stated his stance. To audible gasps from the small audience in the Schreiber auditorium, the BOE president stated, "I'm not going to work for it. It is a waste of my time. It's not going to work." "You have to!" one audience member called out to him.
At the meeting's opening, parent and SEPTA co-president Larry Greenstein addressed the Spector Group, the district's architectural firm, mentioning that it was not a good idea to withhold legible plans from the community, as the public could provide valuable feedback at this stage; at the voting stage, "all we get is a yes/no," he offered. Parent Ellen Fox pointed out that at Manorhaven, there are already 26 students in a fourth grade class, and urged the BOE to include the gym. "You are dooming our physical education program by putting it in a separate bond," she indicated. Another community member said he "didn't have a number in mind," but did want "to see us pass something this year." Moreover, he pressed for a "7-0 decision" from the Board on a plan. "Without your wholehearted support," he advised, "this plan is doomed."
Community member Joel Ziev remarked that he saw some elements missing in the plan that would make it accessible to persons with disabilities. Besides being a legal requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said, "it is the right thing to do." Community member Frank Russo, however, suggested cutting teaching staff and assistant principals in the middle and high schools.