River Dell Schools Seek $18.7M Referendum for Renovations

In a recent River Dell School Board meeting, an $18.7 million referendum was presented, aiming to fund critical renovations and upgrades in the district. With state aid approval, the actual community burden is expected to be approximately $12.3 million. Voting on the referendum is scheduled for December 12, 2023.

The meeting focused predominantly on the need for renovations to support the Riverdale Regional School District’s mission of offering a comprehensive, student-centric learning environment. Superintendent Patrick J. Fletcher set the context by stressing the necessity for funding building renovations and infrastructural enhancements. Having undergone a thorough audit in summer 2022 by Solutions Architecture, potential improvements amounting to $25.6 million were identified. For budgetary reasons, the school board streamlined the projects, taking inputs from stakeholders, including administrators, faculty, and the facilities committee.

One of the standout renovations includes transforming underutilized spaces, especially within the high school. Storage areas are slated to be repurposed for the 18-21-year-old special education program, designing them to resemble real-life environments such as kitchens and bedrooms for effective life skill training. Infrastructural tasks comprise security upgrades, mechanical and HVAC enhancements, and addressing asbestos tile flooring.

A key highlight in the presentations was the emphasis on creating “enhanced learning environments” adaptable to evolving educational needs. Classroom designs, particularly for STEM and STEAM, aim to be flexible with movable furniture, maximizing their utility based on the curriculum.

On the financial front, the Department of Education has greenlit a $6.4 million aid since all highlighted projects are eligible for state assistance. This would reduce the taxable community impact to roughly $12.3 million. The board detailed that calculations for this aid are based on a consistent 34% delivery from the state since 2009, even though the state promises 40%. All projections anticipate a 4% interest rate. It was further clarified that any current bonds from past referendums would be settled this school year, indicating no pre-existing debts.

For ease of public understanding, the district provided an online presentation, QR codes, brochures, and a tax impact calculator for homeowners to compute their individual tax implications.

During the public comment segment, several residents raised concerns about state aid, potential project delays due to inflation, and logistics of simultaneous renovations across schools. It was accentuated that if the referendum didn’t pass, costs could rise, and the district would miss out on the $6.4 million debt service aid.

Additionally, in the community spirit, Preeti Dahariwala from the Riverdale Indian Community made a poignant plea to recognize Diwali, an essential Indian festival, as an official school holiday. This was reinforced by another resident, pointing out its observance in several New Jersey districts.

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