Wall BOE hires firm to explore potential school upgrade project

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Wall Township Board of Education FILE PHOTO

WALL TOWNSHIP — The Board of Education Tuesday approved a resolution awarding a contract for initial planning of a possible infrastructure upgrade that would be subject to approval by district voters.

The $29,900 contract to Spiezle Architecture marks the first official direction the district has taken toward a potential referendum to update its aging school buildings.

The project cost is yet to be determined, according to Board of Education President Ralph Addonizio, who said the phase one study by Spiezle would help prioritize potential projects if there is to be a referendum.

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“[A referendum] is certainly on the table to be looked at, and in order to be able to do that, you have to do the back-work to make a defined plan,” Mr. Addonizio told The Coast Star.

“In our budget, we only have a small amount of money to work with to make improvements, and every year the district tries hard to knock out as many small projects as we can,” he said. 

Mr. Addonizio explained that large projects that are funded through a voter referendum have 40 percent of the cost recouped through the state’s Debt Service Aid [DSA] program.

“Certainly that’s the type of project we could push for in a referendum, because that’s the only place you could get that significant funding. So things like that have to be looked at,” he said.

The district is also looking into projects it could fund with grant monies, as well.

Any type of referendum would not be for 18 months, Mr. Addonizio said, when most of the district’s debts are paid off. 

He emphasized that any referendum would not impact the taxpayers, and the district is exploring all of those options.

“We’re not looking to do a referendum that would increase taxes.”

“The district has money that was saved each year towards this  referendum. That money is going to expire in the next couple of years. If you do another referendum and then you sell the bonds with those other debts expiring. So you do it in a way that there’s no tax increase for anybody. You can get this money coming in for upgrades, and there’s no other financial impact on the residents.” 

The decision to move forward with exploring a referendum is based on last year’s facilities assessment completed by Spiezle. In October of 2019, Spiezle presented a study of needed repairs and upgrades to the district’s aging infrastructure.

The Wall district was incorporated in 1850, and several of its school buildings are well over a half century old. The original part of West Belmar Elementary School was built in 1890, and the original Allenwood Elementary School was built in 1923. Central Elementary School was built in 1950, and Wall High School in 1959. 

Most of the schools are at near or full capacity.

“Unfortunately, there’s so many things in the district that need upgrading and there’s no way to do it all. And to keep students competitive in the world we live in, districts have to evolve and update new things,” Mr. Addonizio said .

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