Residents declined, however, to shoulder the load of an additional $4.5 million in stadium and athletic improvements.
By Matt Skoufalos
Haddon Township public schools will receive some much-needed facilities upgrades in the near future, as residents voted Tuesday to bond $39 million in infrastructure improvements for the district over the next 30 years.
A second question, which would have authorized another $4.5 million of improvements to the high school football field, track, stadium, and concession area, did not pass.
Thirty-six percent of the total cost of the renovations outlined in the first measure will be funded by state financial aid; the stadium improvements would have fallen entirely on township taxpayers to support.
At a 4.5-percent interest rate, the estimated tax impact of the build-out will be around $274 annually for a home assessed at the township average of $223,984.
(The school district has provided a calculator that can determine the specific financial impact of the project for a given property.)
Question One passed 1,440 to 1,073, but Question Two fell short by a measure of 1,454 to 1,047, according to the Camden County Board of Elections. All results are unofficial until certified by the commission.
Before the vote on Tuesday, Haddon Township Superintendent Nancy Ward reflected on the lengthy information campaign that district leaders and volunteers had undertaken to present their case to voters over the past several months.
“Overwhelmingly, people are saying this is a no-brainer; we need this for our schools,” Ward told NJ Pen.
The renovations are “a huge, huge project,” Ward said, with “a lot of work associated.”
After the results were returned, Ward expressed disappointment that the second question did not pass, but thanked township residents in an e-mail for “demonstrat[ing]their commitment to the students of Haddon Township by approving the core projects” of the referendum.
“We will continue to grow our exceptional educational program in safe, healthy and secure learning environments,” she wrote.
With the referendum concluded, the board will next turn its focus to producing fully engineered plans for the projects.
“We might be ready for bids by late February or March,” Ward said.
The district anticipates beginning the reconstruction projects in the early spring or late summer of 2015, and wrapping the work in the fall of 2016 as a “best-case scenario.”
Ward also confirmed that public input would be solicited during the upcoming project planning phase.
“We will start presentations at board meetings, announce where we are, [and]get some feelings from the public,” she said.
Prior to the results of the election, Ward said that the board had not considered any alternative plans to making stadium improvements if the second question failed to pass.
At the Haddon Township Historical and Environmental Center Tuesday evening, poll worker Betty Hubler said that voter turnout had been “steady” throughout the day.
“I’m surprised,” Hubler said. “A lot of young people [voted].”
Exiting the polls, Valerie Bowers, who teaches special education students at Clyde S. Jennings Elementary School, said she knew first-hand “that the buildings need a lot of help.”
Bowers, who was pregnant with her second child throughout the past school year, recalled how hot it was in her third-floor classroom at Jennings, which is due for an HVAC upgrade as part of the improvement package.
But Bowers is also a lifelong township resident and a parent of two young children who will attend schools in the district.
“It’s important to have my kids here,” she said.
Her husband Lance Bowers said he’d “seen the shape” some of the schools are in, and added that the proposals “seemed like improvements that were needed.”
Resident Karen Dawson, who teaches elementary school students in Cherry Hill, said that the referendum was entirely necessary to safeguard the public school infrastructure.
“In an era of diminishing resources, it’s education that pays the price,” Dawson said.
Resident Lois Cummins, who worked for 35 years as a school secretary, and whose granddaughter is a senior at Haddon Township High School, said that the core improvements are necessary for the district while also maintaining property values for taxpayers.
As a senior, Cummins will be eligible for a tax freeze next year that should insulate her from much of the financial impact of the project. Nonetheless, she pointed out, “whenever they close a school, the price of your house goes down.”
Although the installation of an artificial turf field could have helped “entice the [athletic]tournaments to come to Haddon Township,” Cummins thought the district should have broken the field issue out into a separate, third question for voters.
“They [already]have a turf field in Westmont,” Cummins said, referring to the township sports complex on Crystal Lake Avenue.
“I would have done [the]other [stadium]improvements,” she said.
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