Voters in Wenonah, N.J., head to the polls Tuesday to consider a $2.9 million school bond proposal for renovations that would include installing a new gym floor and air-conditioning and repairing the roof in the South Jersey district’s only school.
It is the first school bond referendum in the Gloucester County system in nearly two decades and the only one on Tuesday by a South Jersey district that asks voters to consider a proposal for additional spending that would raise local property taxes.
The proposal includes a list of repairs and renovations indoors and outside at the K-6, 180-student Wenonah Elementary School, such as new bathrooms, new cafeteria tables, concrete ramps, HVAC upgrades, and technology upgrades.
Chief school administrator Kristine Height said the roof project is one of the biggest priorities. One section dates to 1922 and patches are no longer a viable option, she said.
“They’ve outlived their life expectancy,” said acting business administrator Denise DiJohn.
The proposal also calls for replacing the gym floor, which was originally laid with material that contained mercury, and emits small amounts of mercury, Height said. The gym was previously used as a community center, but the district suspended the community’s use of the gym until the floor is replaced, she said. It remains open to students.
After a tornado touched down in the community of about 2,200 earlier this month as Hurricane Ida pummeled the region, a proposal to put an emergency gas generator in the school has taken on new importance. Some residents in the 1-square-mile town were without power for several days.
Under the bond proposal, the school could be used as a shelter during weather and other emergencies.
“If we had had that generator, it would have made a huge difference,” DiJohn said.
If voters approve the bond, the state would contribute about $1.2 million, about 40%, toward the cost of the projects, leaving a $1.7 million tab for residents. That would mean an annual increase of $152.64 on a home assessed at about $260,000, the borough average. The bond would be paid over 20 years.
Height said school officials have erected signs around town to spread public awareness about the referendum. If the measure fails, she said the district would likely appeal to voters a second time later this year.
“We don’t really have much choice,” Height said.
Statewide, voters in Wenonah and three other districts in Sussex, Union, and Morris Counties will consider school construction bonds totaling nearly $96.6 million on Tuesday. Some qualify for state funding to cover some of the costs.
Tuesday is one of five times during the year that school boards may propose a bond issue or special question to pay for school projects. The next date for a special election is Dec. 14.
Polls in Wenonah will be open from 2 to 8 p.m.