By KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE — The construction of a new elementary school, renovation of a middle school, the implementation of full-day kindergarten and district-wide technology/security upgrades are on the horizon.
Voters will be asked to head to the polls on March 14 to approve a $57.7 million bond referendum, which township and school officials have said will be at no cost to the taxpayer.
“The township will pay for all these improvements with no tax impact to the residents of Woodbridge Township,” said Mayor John E. McCormac, noting that the improvements will be funded through PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs similar to the way they paid for $26 million in community facilities on school grounds over the last three years.
Once the construction of the new Ross Street School No. 11 building is complete, the current 100-year-old building will be demolished.
A new wing will be constructed at Woodbridge Middle School, which will include a gymnasium, science laboratory, media center and classrooms, and the older space of the school will be renovated.
Another aspect of the referendum is the implementation of full-day kindergarten by fall 2018.
The referendum includes funding to lease and renovate St. Cecelia’s School in Iselin, which would accommodate the move of students at Kennedy Park Elementary School No. 24 into Oak Tree Road Elementary School No. 29 by January 2018.
School No. 24 will be used for full-day kindergarten and special programs.
Oak Tree Road School will have room for approximately 625 students — 25 classrooms with 25 students in each classroom. The current enrollment at Kennedy Park is 447 students in 19 rooms.
Under the leadership of Project Manager Chris Krosty, the township installed new turf football, soccer, baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, cricket fields, tracks, a stadium, gymnasium floors and bleachers, auditorium air conditioning and seating and playgrounds at every elementary school.
“We did this using the tax revenue from a handful of economic development projects like the CPV power plant and warehouses for Prologis, Amazon and Preferred Freezer,” said McCormac. “Without incentives projects, [these businesses] would have gone into towns around us and not Woodbridge. Now we get the jobs, we get the cleaned-up sites, we get tax revenue, which we share with the school district. Even though it is not a requirement to do so, it’s simply the right thing to do.”
McCormac said in a similar way, they expect to share revenue — $44.8 million — from downtown development projects and new warehouse projects with the school district and pay for the construction of a new Ross Street Elementary School No. 11, which will cost $33.4 million, renovations at Woodbridge Middle School, which will cost $20.9 million, the lease and renovations at St. Cecelia’s School, which will cost $3.4 million and technology/security upgrades which will cost $1.6 million.
He said the revenue funds will also pay for any incremental cost for any schoolchildren that would come from the future proposed developments in downtown Woodbridge.
“So truly, there will be no impact at all on the school budget,” he said.
Some $12.9 million from state aid funds will also be used to fund the improvements.
McCormac said the bond referendum is part of the process of downtown Woodbridge’s transformation into a significant high-end luxury transit-oriented downtown.
“We have divided downtown Woodbridge into 12 districts and have named a redeveloper for each district after a competitive process to match the right developer with the right projects,” he said.
Prism is nearly ready to start building luxury apartments on the Rug’s & Riffy’s Bar & Grill/ Quick Chek site on Rahway Avenue, and three other projects are on the drawing board in the area.
Resident David Pinkowitz shared his concerns about the potential for unknown future costs associated with the implementation of full-day kindergarten at a Board of Education meeting on Feb. 15.
He said with a budget that has to be put together at a 2 percent cap, something unknown may be taken away.
“It’s great that someone’s child got full-day kindergarten, but then we may have lost a program they really wanted to offer in grades 1 to 12,” he said.
Pinkowitz said another concern is not having enforcement on the PILOT programs.
“I think [the referendum] proposal is not efficient,” he said noting that with the referendum, the district is expanding the number of school buildings in the township.
Board President Dan Harris said the district and township officials have been talking about how to address the bump in enrollment to Ross Street School with the township’s initiative to redevelop the downtown for a couple of years.
“As a district, we’re excited about the new PILOT projects that will replace one of our oldest elementary schools and significantly renovate our oldest middle school at no cost to the district,” he said.
Harris said implementing full-day kindergarten is an exciting opportunity that would not have been possible without renting St. Cecelia School’s building.
“The township was critical in securing that facility for us and spending the money to bring the building up to code,” he said. “With St. Cecelia’s, we’ll acquire the necessary amount of classrooms to provide full-day kindergarten.”
Harris said the district has been methodically preparing to pay for full-day kindergarten within the district’s operating budget.
“The administration and the board would refer to it as tightening our belts as we do every year with our budget’s 2 percent tax levy cap and our taxpayers in mind,” he said.
Harris said the implementation of full-day kindergarten will not be a one-year gimmick.
“We are prepared to offer full-day kindergarten for years to come, and we will make it work within our budget,” he said.
Polls are open from 2-8 p.m. For more information, visit woodbridge.k12.nj.us.