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HVRSD faces rising expenditures in coming years

by Ambreen Ali

Hopewell Valley schools anticipate spending about $23 million in the coming years on facilities repairs, including replacing aging boilers, HVAC systems and roofs.

The proposed projects for next school year total $3.3 million, money that the administration says will come from State grants and capital reserves first. The District has $5.7 million in capital reserves, and Assistant Superintendent Robert Colavita highlighted several State funding opportunities that could offset the cost of the projects during a discussion at the School Board meeting on Monday.

Colavita added that the District wants to avoid seeking a bond referendum to fund the projects if at all possible. Projects for the 2024-25 school year total $2.6 million, but the following year includes major HVAC upgrades at Timberlane Middle School and Central High School that bring that total to $12.2 million. His presentation included $10.6 million in projects that are being pushed beyond 2026.

“We’re going to try to do as much as we can with what we have, try to get State funding when we can, and do the best to attack these projects,” he said. “There may be a time in the future when we may need to do another referendum. It’s just part of doing business. We don’t want to do one right now, and we will continue to try to fix things and repair things.”

The last time the District sought a referendum was in 2016, when taxpayers approved a $35.8 million bond for repairs and improvements to the District’s six schools.

For the 24-25 school year, Facilities Director Tom Quinn identified three key projects to address:

The first is to update the fire alarm system at Stony Brook Elementary, which will cost an estimated $600,000. The current system belongs to a company that has gone out of business, which Colavita said has rendered it obsolete.

“When you have something go bad, it’s very difficult to get parts for it. The systems only talk to each other. They won’t talk to someone else’s system,” he explained.

The second project is electrical upgrades at Toll Gate Elementary that will cost an estimated $300,000.

The third is boiler and chiller replacements at Hopewell Elementary at a total cost of $2.4 million. Only two of four boilers currently function at the school. The chiller is broken and cannot be fixed, Colavita said.

Separate from these capital projects, the facilities department has a budget of $6.7 million that covers salaries, regular maintenance of school facilities, custodial services, and upkeep of grounds. The District has a plumber and electrician on staff, which Colavita said saves money by avoiding contractor costs when something goes wrong.

Board Member Alex Reznik suggested that the facilities department consider sustainability wherever possible in these capital projects, such as exploring solar panels on roofs that are replaced. Currently, the District rents out roof space for PSE&G to place solar panels, which is one way to offset costs of projects and energy.

Colavita said the District would continue to look for opportunities to economize and make due where possible. Ultimately, however, he noted, “Maintenance of 800,000 square feet of aging buildings is never-ending.”

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