August 4, 2021

PPS Board Approves $17.5M Proposal For January Maintenance Referendum

By Donald Gilpin

The Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) has sent to the New Jersey Department of Education an application for a  $17.5 million referendum to repair and replace leaking roofs at all six district schools, as well as to replace aging skylights, gutters, siding, deteriorating masonry, and rooftop HVAC equipment.

“These needs are urgent,” said PPS Board Administrator Matt Bouldin. “Delays can only lead to ongoing, costly repairs and building damage and would impede the installation of solar panels.” The application was approved by the Princeton BOE by an 8-1 vote at their meeting last week.

If the proposed projects are approved by the state on schedule, Princeton residents will vote on the “health and safety referendum for urgent capital needs” at a special election on January 25, 2022.  If the referendum passes, the work will start in the summer of 2022, with projects spread out over the next several years.

The last PPS referendum, $27 million for improvements to all six schools, was passed in December 2018. The debt from prior referendums is scheduled to mature on February 1, 2022, and 2023, and the proposed future maintenance projects can be completed without increasing debt service above the current levels.

“Most of the current referendum projects are expected to be complete by the end of this summer, and we anticipate that the final stages of the PHS projects will be completed this winter,” said BOE Operations Committee Co-Chair Susan Kanter. “There would be no overlap of work.”

She continued, “The projects being completed now were deemed the highest priorities in 2018, and now three years later we have new and urgent needs that must be addressed. As an added incentive, this will allow us to move forward with solar panel installation.”

In his proposal to the BOE, Bouldin noted that the state would potentially reimburse the district for up to 34 cents on every dollar spent on the proposed maintenance. Also, after replacing the schools’ leaking roofs, further savings and greater sustainability would be achieved through the installation of rooftop solar panels.    

This referendum is part of a larger review of long-term district planning to meet facilities needs. “As the district determines additional facilities needs and requirements, there will be additional proposals to address growing enrollment [at Princeton High School and Princeton Middle School] and pedagogical needs,” Bouldin said.

He added that the goal was to address those needs without raising the debt service tax levy from fiscal year 2020-21 levels. “Voting ‘yes’ on January 25, 2022 will save taxpayers money in emergency repairs, custodial overtime, and prevent the loss of classroom space due to leaking roofs and problems associated with outdated equipment,” he said.

New PPS Superintendent Carol Kelley, starting her second month on the job, remarked on how transparent the process for developing this health and safety referendum proposal has been. “I have not seen that in other districts,” she noted, citing her 10 years of prior experience as a schools superintendent.