RFH Asks Voters For $12.6M Upgrade To High School

August 24, 2018
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The referendum will be held Tuesday, Oct. 2 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the normal polling locations in both boroughs. Photo by Jay Cook

By Jay Cook |

RUMSON – A special bond referendum will be held this fall asking Rumson and Fair Haven homeowners to spend $12.59 million in a “tax-neutral” proposal featuring the transformation of outdated spaces at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) into modern learning areas.

RFH superintendent Peter J. Righi, Ed.D. said the referendum is being driven by a combination of two factors: previous debt will be coming off the books next year and the nearly 1,000 students who attend the regional high school deserve better educational spaces.

“It’s all about collaborating today, not just teachers standing in front of kids lecturing for 40 minutes,” Righi told The Two River Times last week. “It’s more (about) kids discovering, teachers coaching and walking around. Our spaces just don’t do that.”

Renovations are planned to the high school’s media center to make it more of a college-style learning space. Photo by Jay Cook

The referendum will be held Tuesday, Oct. 2 from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the normal polling locations in both boroughs.

The focus will be on reinventing current classrooms instead of new mass construction, although one piece of new construction is being proposed.

Numerous science laboratory rooms will be upgraded to incorporate Next Generation Science Standards guidelines, which pave the way for a more hands-on learning environment. Righi said the basic desk and chair setups don’t allow for student collaboration.

“Things are going to be movable, technology will be infused,” he added. “Not to say we didn’t have technology or these things, but the physical classroom space hampers us.”

The media center will also be reimagined with “maker spaces” and reformed “to look more like a college library to have the kiosks and technology infused with meeting rooms,” Righi continued.

A reconfiguration is planned for the guidance office so students and parents who meet with counselors and university representatives aren’t crowded, said Righi.

A number of outdated science labs will be reconfigured to cre- ate more mobile and accessible learning areas. Photo by Jay Cook

The referendum also calls for upgrades around and to the auditorium. New lights and aisle carpeting are planned and there will be ceiling renovations. The one piece of new construction would be a new woodshop located in an open area behind the back wall of the stage, RFH business administrator Frank Gripp explained. The existing woodshop would be repurposed into a science, technology, arts, engineering and mathematics (STEAM) lab for students.

Some upgrades are also planned to the athletic facilities outside the confines of the physical high school. New turf fields for the baseball, field hockey and upper practice fields will be incorporated. A new softball field would be at the upper practice field.

Gripp said one major selling point would be the “tax-neutral” impact on homeowners, meaning there would be no increases to the regional school tax levy Rumson and Fair Haven taxpayers pay. Existing debt from a 2004 referendum that financed HVAC improvement will retire in 2019.

According to information provided by each borough administrator, in 2018, the average assessment of a home in Rumson was $1,392,900 and that homeowner will pay $5,359.64 to fund RFH this year.

In Fair Haven, the average home was assessed at $808,000 in 2018. That homeowner will pay $2,747.20 to RFH this year.

If the referendum fails, the average Rumson and Fair Haven homeowner would save $200.16 and $116.40 annually, respectively.

If the referendum passes, RFH would be able to access state debt service which would cover 32 percent of the $12.59 million project. State aid is only available if a bond referendum is approved by voters.

RFH’s Board of Education unanimously approved the referendum at a scheduled board meeting in July. If approved, Gripp said minimal construction would begin in the summer of 2019 and some technology improvements could begin that soon, too. He declined to give a deadline on when construction would be complete.

The original high school structure, namely its landmark front entrance, was built in the 1930s. Other wings and additions were made in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s about a 50/50 split between Rumson and Fair Haven students who attend, Righi said.

“We’re a great school now,” he said, “and this is the next step for us.”

All six polling locations in Fair Haven are at the Church of the Nativity Parish Center, 180 Ridge Road.

The six Rumson polling locations are spread across three different buildings. Districts 1 and 2 vote at Rumson Borough Hall’s court room, 80 East River Road. Districts 3 and 6 are located at the library at Forrestdale School, 60 Forrest Ave. Districts 4 and 5 poll at B’Nai Israel Synagogue’s youth lounge, 171 Ridge Road.

For more information about this vote, visit rumsonfairhaven.org/vote or send an email to referendum@rumsonfairhaven.org. Presentations and building tours are anticipated as the Oct. 2 referendum vote approaches.

This article was first published in the August 23-30, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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