Holmdel Schools $40.3M Question Is On Tuesday’s Ballot

September 24, 2017
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Among other things, Holmdel’s 2020 Initiative calls for new science labs, and repurposing of rooms for a robotics and engineering lab.

By Jay Cook |

HOLMDEL – Holmdel voters have plenty to consider when they head to the polls for a district-wide, multimillion-dollar overhaul of the township’s four public schools.

Tabbed as the Holmdel 2020 Initiative, the $40.3 million in renovations to Village School, Indian Hill School, William R. Satz School and Holmdel High School is set for a Sept. 26 special referendum.

If the voters approve it, Holmdel 2020 would make the school district a true 21st century learning environment, said Holmdel Superintendent of Schools Robert McGarry, Ed.D.

“I want to make sure that our facilities don’t limit the programs that we provide to our students and, in essence, don’t limit what our students are capable of achieving,” McGarry said this week.

McGarry said the district is focused on improving academic and educational offerings in the schools. Nearly 54 percent of the $40.3 million is allotted to those educational advancements.

Among those improvements are the construction of new science labs and converting a music room to a robotics laboratory, both in Satz School. In the high school, the plan calls for converting the existing wrestling room into a larger TV production room than what currently exists, as well as repurposing an unused former shop classroom into an engineering lab. The robotics and engineering programs would be new to the curriculum.

“We want to make sure we provide as cutting-edge science and technology labs as best we can,” said Joseph Hammer, Holmdel Board of Education president.

McGarry also pointed out how Holmdel 2020 would overhaul libraries in both schools into multimedia centers with “maker space” and group study rooms. He said these upgrades parallel what is happening farther down Crawfords Corner Road at the Bell Works facility.

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He said there is a shift in the way students learn in the 21st century and how workplaces are changing. McGarry added the district wants to reimagine libraries as “spaces not just for information, but also for inspiration and collaboration.”

Concept plans show televisions, brightly colored seating, and small collaboration spaces separated by tall, two-way glass partitions.

Village School, housing pre-K through third-grade students, would add onto its full-day kindergarten service by providing three new classrooms. A computer classroom would be converted to a STEAM (science, tech, engineering, arts, mathematics) lab, and another classroom would become an art room.

Village School and Indian Hill School, grades four through six, would both replace interior doors, security cameras, and old heating and venting units with HVAC systems. They would upgrade public address systems, as well as complete curbing and walkway repairs.

Improvements to athletic facilities on site would be included if Holmdel 2020 passes.

Holmdel High School’s Roggy Field would have the existing turf surface replaced, the track resurfaced, grandstands retrofitted for ADA compliance, and add new stadium lights.

While Holmdel 2020 is a school board referendum, it has garnered support from residents currently running for seats on the Holmdel Township Committee.

Barbara Singer, a Democrat running with Larry Luttrell, said the plan includes updates the schools need. She is also a mother to three students, attending three of the four schools.

“Holmdel has been doing very well educationally, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement,” she said. “I think our board does need to have foresight into where the jobs are going to be when they get out of school.”

Holmdel Mayor Greg Buontempo, running for reelection on the Republican ticket with pediatrician Rocco Pascucci, said he’s gone through the plans. Holmdel’s Board of Education presented Holmdel 2020 to the township planning board so planners knew what was coming down the pipeline.

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While cautioning he is not speaking on behalf of the Township Committee, Buontempo said his opinion is, “timing is everything,” as Holmdel Township and Monmouth County did not increase taxes in 2017. “If there’s ever a year where you’d want to put this forward, it’s now when people aren’t being overwhelmed with an increase of costs across the board,” he said.

The Holmdel 2020 Initiative already has received approvals from the state Department of Education. About $9.5 million of state debt service aid would be made available to the project if approved, bringing the cost to homeowners down. That money is only available through referendum.

For the Holmdel resident with an average assessed home value of $657,228, the successful passage of the referendum would mean a $159 tax increase.

McGarry said existing debt bonds from two previous referendum projects in 1996 and 2001 would be retiring by 2021. The Holmdel Board of Education would take out a bond for the Holmdel 2020 plan, yet he did not say what its lifespan would be.

Speaking on the plan as a whole, McGarry said, “Obviously, I think it’s really critical. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be putting it forward to the board, and the board wouldn’t be putting it forward to the community.”

If approved by voters, construction would begin as schools close in June 2018. Project completion is anticipated for the start of the 2020 school year.

The polls will be open from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 26. Voters can go to their usual polling locations in town.

For more information about the Holmdel 2020 Initiative, visit HolmdelSchools.org.

This article was first published in the Sept. 21-28, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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