Western New Jersey

Phillipsburg schools weigh $8.5 million construction referendum

PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. - The Phillipsburg School Board held its first information session Tuesday to address an upcoming 8.5 million dollar referendum that could bring a new high school, numerous renovations and close three of the district's oldest schools.

Along with the construction of the new state-funded high school, the plan would involve moving middle school students to the current high school with $5,800,000 in building renovations, while moving grades three through five to the middle school and grades one and two to the Green Street school.

The district's three oldest buildings, Howell, Freeman and Barber, would be closed due to "obsolescence," with Barber to be transformed into a new education center for the district.    

On September 30, the New Jersey district will put the "Building Excellence" plan up to a public vote, in a move that school officials say will bring no tax increase to residents in spite of the construction's $10,800,000 price tag.

"This transition plan will not cost the tax payers a dime," said Business Administrator William Bauer. "I look at it as the perfect storm of financial situations."

According to Bauer, the Phillipsburg school board plans to fund the constructions through a series of bond sales at a 4.35% interest rate that will begin in 2015 and last 20 years.

The use of Barber School as the district's new administration center will also free them of the $435,000 annual cost of renting their current education center, further increasing savings.

"We're not going to have an opportunity like this ever again," said Superintendent George Chando of the opportunity to make improvements without raising taxes. "This is the best option [and] the most fiscally prudent option for the school district to deal with."

The remaining $2.3 million not covered by the referendum will be taken out of the district's' capital reserve account, which Bauer says is money they currently have.

The district will also be retiring the debt on Maloney Stadium, which they say will bring further economic relief.

The information session, held at the Phillipsburg High School auditorium, is the first meeting planned to educate the district about the upcoming vote.

According to Chando, a referendum action committee of community volunteers has been set up.

"We will continue to move this information for everyone in the community to have an understanding of this plan," said Chando.

Construction of the high school will still take several years to complete.

"All of this is in preparation, hopefully, for that opening in August of 2016," said Chando.

Bauer says that some renovations to the building have been completed, with 10 bathrooms having already been improved.

He congratulated the school board and other officials on their continued work in making the district self-reliant.

"We need to become more self-sufficient here and not depend on the government for moneys that are given to the school district" he said. "We've accomplished that."

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