Oaklyn Voters to Decide $4M School Bond in September 24 Special Election

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If approved, the ‘Warm, Safe, and Dry’ project replaces HVAC systems, roofing and insulation, windows, and adds a security entrance at the borough school. Forty percent of the project is eligible for state aid.

By Matt Skoufalos | September 23, 2019

On Tuesday, Oaklyn residents will head to the polls for a special referendum that would bond some $2.4 million in improvements to the borough public school building.

Dubbed the “Warm, Safe, and Dry” ballot measure, it would replace aging HVAC units in the facility with new, digitally controlled systems; replace its roof and windows; and add a new security vestibule to the front entrance of the school.

The project is eligible for $1.6 million in state aid, or 40 percent of the approximately $4-million project.

If the measure passes, the financial impact to a home assessed at the borough average ($162,441) would be a tax increase of $80.33 annually for the 20-year length of the bond.

That breaks down to less than $7 a month on average, according to the Oaklyn school district, which provides a tax impact calculator here.

Oaklyn Public School Floor Plan. Credit: Garrison Architects.

“We do think it’s a pretty good deal,” said Oaklyn Board of Education President William Stauts, citing the state financial aid package associated with the bond.

Without it, Stauts said the district will still have to complete the renovations, but over a longer period of time, and footing the whole bill locally.

“It’s doing things that have to be done,” Stauts said.

“If we do everything at once, we’ll wind up with better prices. We think that’s far and away the best way to go, and we’ll get benefits down the road.”

The building, which was constructed in 1926, has begun showing its age, the board president said. The mechanical systems for its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are more than 30 years old; the windows are nearly as old, and the roof is out of warranty after having been replaced in 1997.

Those factors contribute to energy inefficiencies that make the building more expensive to operate within, as well as creating an uncomfortable environment for children and teachers, Stauts said.

“We had one [of the HVAC units]  fail the last day of school before Christmas,” he said; “fortunately, Collingswood had a guy on staff who was able to get it up and running before school resumed. That’s an indication that things have outlived their useful life.

“The roof’s the same way,” Stauts said. “It was replaced in sections over the years. Some [windows]  leak; some won’t open. Some, when you do get them open, won’t close.”

Oaklyn Public School Floor Plan. Credit: Garrison Architects.

Construction of a security vestibule is a safety feature that Stauts said the students and staff deserve in an age of increasing school violence.

It would replace the glass front doors with a new vestibule, interior doors, and a transaction window.

At an estimated $180,000, it’s also the least expensive component of the bond.

The priciest component, at an estimated $2.08 million, is the roof job; the HVAC systems and electrical components tally about $1.73 million.

In 2008, the last time the district went out for a bond issue, voters “soundly defeated” it, Stauts said. He hopes for a different outcome on Tuesday.

“We’ve just limped along with what we have and tried to make do with everything,” Stauts said. “There is no plan B; if it doesn’t happen, we’re going to have to prioritize what has to be done first. We’re not going to get the benefit of cost reductions, and we’re going to pay it all ourselves, instead of just 60 percent.”

Polls will be open to borough residents tomorrow from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Districts 1 and 2 will vote at the Oaklyn Fire Hall; Districts 3 and 4 will vote at the Oaklyn VFW.

The school district has more information about the referendum here. After the polls close, check back with NJ Pen for results Tuesday night.

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