SOM District Considers Building Aquatic Center at High School

New pool and fitness center, plus expanded classroom space, is option BOE is leaning toward.


The South Orange - Maplewood School District will consider building an addition to Columbia High School (CHS) that would house a new aquatic center with a six-lane pool and a fitness center, according to the Board of Education (BOE) discussion on Monday night.

The aquatic center is one option the board is discussing to refurbish the existing pool -- which is currently closed because the ceiling is structurally unsound -- while gaining additional classroom space.

The plan was presented by the district's Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider, who showed the board blueprints of the proposed addition.

The aquatic center would be built in the current gym parking lot, with an entrance on Valley Street. That plan would also construct a new, 2,400 square- foot fitness center to replace the current one.

Such a move would free up a large amount of additional space to become flexible, multipurpose classrooms that could house an additional 250-300 students, as well as allow for the renovation of the school's science labs. (The population at CHS is projected to rise from 1,800 to 2,200 students over the next several years.)

The original Guastavino tiles on the pool ceiling would be maintained in a large, open space that could be used for performances and events as well as classrooms, with the addition of partitions.

“The way of the future is to have this flexible learning space,” said Schneider. Board president Beth Daugherty said the plan would allow the district to create "academic clusters," in which academic departments would be located near each other to further collaboration and sharing of resources. 

Two other options are to renovate the pool in its existing space or to eliminate the pool entirely and repurpose the space into classrooms. "You really only get the flexibility of space in the existing footprint if you build additional space," said Daugherty.  

The project would cost approximately $8.5 million, said Schneider, which the district would take on as additional debt service.

The overall impact on taxes is determined by the combination of the increase in the operating budget and the amount of debt service the district takes on.  

"In real dollars it would be an additional $750,000 going forward year after year, which would probably mean an increase of $30 per average household per year," she said. 

The district bonds between $10 million and $12 million every three years to pay for an ongoing list of capital projects. Bonding for capital improvements must be approved by the Board of School Estimate (BSE).

The district is exploring partnering with another institution (such as the South Mountain YMCA) as well as corporate sponsorships to offset costs. Also, Schneider said she would look into the amount of revenue the pool could generate if it were open to the outside community.

"I am strongly against an aquatic center unless we have a large donation," said Board member Jeffrey Bennett. He said that $750,000 is "a lot when we have so many other needs."

Board member Bill Gaudelli said, "If we're going to take away from the operating budget, is it fair to add an aquatic center?" 

The district will hold a special community meeting to discuss the issue on November 14 at 7:30 p.m., location to be determined.

If the BOE decides to go ahead with the plan, it will ask the BSE to approve the bonding in February and will award the contract in April, so that the project could begin in the summer. It is expected to take about a year to complete. 

Carolyn Maynard-Parisi October 18, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Morrisa, that's a good question and I have reached out to the district for more clarity. I do know the district had already bonded some money (I believe 1.7m) to pay for repairs to the pool, so I would imagine that would also go toward the entire project. Also, Ms. Schneider stressed several times throughout the meeting that the numbers were all preliminary and that she would have more concrete information at the Nov. 14 community forum.
Morrisa da Silva October 18, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Thanks Carolyn!
Carolyn Maynard-Parisi October 18, 2012 at 09:39 PM
Morrisa, according to a district representative, the $8.5 million figure was used to provide potential scenarios for the BOE to help inform their decisions going forward, and it is not a "firm" estimate. Again, more info will be presented at the November 14 forum. Hope that helps.
Michelle Khoury October 19, 2012 at 12:21 AM
Has the BOE considered a fund raising campain? Local community members and businesses might willingly contribute for the project rather than being forced to pay additional taxes. It gives the community ownership of the project. We just moved here from Hudson, OH, where the community funded a new football stadium. Everyone is very proud of it.
Nancy Heins-Glaser January 24, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Could funds for a pool be held in abeyance? Cant we prioritize upgrades to the BOE building to get decent TV/digital transmission of meetings? For years BOE meetings are of poor quality for TV viewers. Tho they are no longer edited (good news) why watch when you cant hear/see? Is no one else bothered? Meetings are documented for the BOE/SOMSD; broadcasts are for the public. The only way to hold our elected or paid folks accountable is watching meetings. Is no one watching? Please let US see and hear. Grants apps were missed- why? The last several years, deadlines were missed too. Its not just a recent BOE election which changed that. The meetings are key to info/openness and public input to holding a line on taxes/its our real money. Schools sell homes. SO/MA taxes are 56% for schools. How much is for essential municipal costs? We deserve quality meetings - residents cant see how our officials/leaders (elected or hired) track expenses or fulfill their duties if the public cant see/hear. SOMSD budget has been tech heavey for several years((laptops,ipods,iphones). But basic TV/audio upgrades in BOE building is missing. Compare BOE members/SOMSD officials sitting on a dias, to residents at the "table" or chairdesks. Taping meetings is good; why spend time/money to tape but not oversee quality of meeting broadcasts? Can Seton Hall consider "pool share?" S.O. at least pays for safety/policing near our campus(I am an alum who lives in so.orange). Maplewood not so much.


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