Jul 29, 2014
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Ridgewood Referendum Construction Finishing Up

Final touchup at Willard and GW could be done in early September, essentially representing the completion of a controversial $48 million referendum.

Ridgewood Referendum Construction Finishing Up Ridgewood Referendum Construction Finishing Up Ridgewood Referendum Construction Finishing Up Ridgewood Referendum Construction Finishing Up

The construction work to greatly modernize the facilities of Ridgewood's schools might be complete for the start of the upcoming school year, according to school administrators.

"We hope" was the message from Ridgewood Superintendent Daniel Fishbein on Monday. began in 2010 and is on pace to finish shortly, perhaps by Sept. 6, the first day of school.

Voters in December of 2009, giving the district the go-ahead to place additions onto buildings, create classrooms, modernize athletic facilities and more.

The primarily addressed issues of overcrowding in classrooms throughout Bergen County's largest school district.

"You don't do this for the short term," Fishbein said of the referendum. "This will benefit generations of students in the district."

The list of projects has been extensive, touching every school building in town aside from . Passage of the referendum accounts for about a $300 tax hit for residents per year. The district received $10 million in state grants and $2 million in debt service aid.

received the single highest amount of cash, $10.8 million for a littany of renovations. In addition to roof replacement, new windows, doors, restrooms, a boiler, and general building repairs were installed at the building, first constructed in 1919.

Referendum construction also included major additions at , , and . Work at Hawes and Ridge finished last fall. GW and Willard are nearly complete.

In total, between the four there are 23 new classrooms, nine small groups instruction rooms, three computer labs, an art studio at Ridge, media centers at GW and Willard, and new gym at GW. Those major additions totaled $23.5 million, about half of the referendum funding.

"One of the building blocks of the referendum was to consolidate some of our special education programs so that a child in one of those programs would arrive at that school in kindergarten and stay through fifth grade," Fishbein said Monday. "This allowed us to do that."

Additionally, each school now has occupancy light sensors installed to increase energy efficiency. The sensors should pay for themselves after six years, Fishbein previously told Patch. B.F. also received air conditioning in the auditorium at a cost of $816,000.

Most have agreed the schools were antiquated and in need of an overhaul. The controversy surrounding the referendum, however, has centered on bundling fields improvements.

Many opined the turf projects at B.F. – which include eliminating a baseball field for a new track – and the high school were insensitive to citizens suffering through one of the worst economic downturns in 80 years. Along with the fields, new fencing and regulation standard bleachers at RHS Stadium Field, totalling $5.4 million not including change orders.

The naysayers to the field touch-ups continued to after a racked up at Stevens and RHS Stadium fields. 

Agree or disagre with the decision, the fields are here to stay.

Though change orders from fields or facility construction does add up, there's another element at play, according to Fishbein.

"Change orders go both ways – it's not just taking money out, paying more money. There are some things we discover along the way that don't need to be done or the contractor says to us we can do it this way...and it's cheaper."

Currently, the project is about $250,000 under budget, Business Administrator Angelo DeSimone told Patch. The school board has the option to return unspent money to residents or perform additional work to elements of the referendum.

It's been a long, exciting and tiring referendum road for school staff and administrators. A punch list will be developed following a construction tour and ribbon cuttings scheduled for October.

"We're completing a $48 million referendum which is great, our facilities needed it," Fishbein said, adding that he doesn't anticipate another second question to the voters anytime soon.

"But really what's important is the instruction that occurs in the classrooms. This was definitely necessary and it will assist students and teachers for decades."

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