When Dr. Julie Glazer joined the Nutley Public Schools as Superintendent in July 2016, the district and Board of Education had been exploring overcrowding within the schools for several years. Previous administrations and Boards were aware of the need for additional space and had spent at least six years watching enrollment, programming and space at each of the schools.
“When I came to the district and joined the conversation, we reviewed all the needs at all of the schools,” said Dr. Glazer. “The total cost of all needed projects district-wide was more than $96 million. No one felt at all comfortable with this number, so the Board looked at each item and peeled back to what were identified as the priorities.”
With the input of Dr. Ross Haber, demographer, and community feedback, the Board, Dr. Glazer, Business Administrator Karen Yeamans, and DiCara Rubino Architects presented the proposed construction projects to the community at seven Town Hall meetings in January and early February of 2017. Construction projects included additions to Yantacaw, Washington, John H. Walker Middle School and Nutley High School. The proposed construction will eliminate the current trailers at Washington and Yantacaw and the need for future trailers at these schools. It will relocate all sixth grade students to the middle school and create additional physical education space, classrooms and a new media center at NHS.
After hearing from the community and receiving input on the proposed projects during the initial Town Hall meetings, the plans were revised to include a multi-purpose room at Washington, remove the proposed kitchen at Yantacaw and change the size of the multi-purpose room at the middle school. These updated plans were presented to the community at the March 8th Town Hall at JHWMS and submitted to the NJ Department of Education for review in April. The total cost of these four projects was $70.4 million.
During the summer, the NJ Department of Education returned the plans and provided preliminary debt service aid numbers to the district. The Board and administration met with the architects, bond attorney and financial advisors to review, and then to prepare to move forward.
At the September 25th Town Hall meeting, held at JHWMS, Dr. Glazer and Board President Daniel Carnicella spoke about the options and alternative solutions that the Board and administration had looked at, before presenting the proposed construction plans to the community. “Since we first presented the proposed building plans last January, we have consistently welcomed all community input, and we followed up on each suggestion,” Dr. Glazer said at the meeting. “We looked at costs and requirements for building a new school, for renovating existing properties in town as instructional space, and did a cost benefit analysis of only doing part of the proposed construction—say just the middle school—but due to state mandates, required acreage, cost, program and/or space needs none of these suggestions was viable.”
Some of the ideas the Board and administration looked at are listed below, along with the findings for each suggestion.
Build a New School
The current state requirements to build a new school in Nutley would require a property, at least 70% larger than the existing Nutley High School. The overall project would more expensive than the proposed renovations and additions due to the land costs. The state would require approximately 30 acres to build a new school. There is not a space of this size available in Nutley. New Jersey’s Green Acres law also prohibits the district’s ability to build on parks or green space, without replacing the green space by 1.5 times.
Only Expand the Middle School
By just adding to the middle school, we will not solve our overcrowding issues. Yantacaw and Washington would remain overcrowded, even if the sixth graders relocated. The trailers would remain at both elementary schools. The high school students would still be short classroom space, with physical education often taking place in hallways. Class sizes would continue to increase, throughout the district, with this option.
Build on the Oval
Several community members have suggested we build a school on the Oval. The Oval is the center of town and is the site of many town and school events. In good weather, it is used as additional physical education space and is considered a “classroom” by the NJ Department of Education. The Oval is paramount to help ease the need for space at NHS. Building on it presents a new set of challenges, at a higher cost.
Put Trailers on the Davis Property
We have recently heard that we should use the Davis Property (Bike Shop), adjacent to the middle school, to put trailers to house all sixth grade students. While this space was purchased by the Board of Commissioners to expand JHWMS, the space is not large enough to put enough trailers for the entire sixth grade class. This option also does not consider students’ need for physical education space and a cafeteria. Students would need to move to and from JHWMS, throughout the day, requiring additional security to ensure student and staff safety. This also changes traffic and delivery patterns.
Use the Hoffman LaRoche Property
The former Hoffman LaRoche site has been sold, with the developers still finalizing their plans. The district and town do not have any control of that property. We continue to receive updates on their progress through the Board of Commissioners who are working hard to bring plans to a quick resolution for their own budget planning purposes, not just its impact on our school district.
When the Board assessed all the needs of the district, the proposed construction was more than $96 million. In order to bring the proposed estimate down considerably, the Board and administration were forced to prioritize the projects. To air condition the district, the cost was more than $9 million, with a significant cost to maintain the air conditioning at each school on an annual basis. It was not an annual cost that the district could sustain so the Board and administration were forced to make cuts.
“The top priority of the Nutley Public Schools is to provide the best education to our students and the Board, administration and I believe that we have put the best option forward, after exhausting all other possibilities,” said Dr. Glazer. “We have looked at all your ideas and have continued to explore our own. What we have put out to the community for referendum is our best option for the future of the district, our students, and our property values. We leave the decision up to the community now.”