In response to resident questions on a Board of Education proposal to add a 26,000 square foot complex to the Mahwah High School campus, district officials detailed the process that led to the proposal at a board meeting Wednesday night.
District Business Administrator Ed Deptula explained that the board’s Facilities Committee, which is made up of four board members, is tasked with discussing facilities issues and proposals, and then making recommendations on them to the full board.
“When it comes to the board level, we can’t move forward without the input of all 9 people [on the board],” he explained.
The idea for an athletic complex came after meetings with department heads, administrators, and others in the district identified a need for additional athletic space, he said.
“We know that we have enough classroom space to meet our needs for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Deptula said one of the main uses for the complex would be to provide practice space for school and rec teams, because scheduling at Mahwah schools is often overcrowded. He showed an audience of board members, school officials, and several residents who attended the meeting a layout of all of the sporting activities happening after school on a random day during the last school year.
Deptula chose a day in February to highlight. At the MHS gym there was high school basketball from 2:45 to 5:45 and rec basketball from 8 to 9:30; in the high school auxiliary gym, high school wrestling from 3:30 to 6 and rec wrestling from 6:15 to 9:30; at the Ridge and Lenape Meadows, high school basketball from 3:45 to 5:45 and rec basketball from 5:45 to 9:30, in JK’s new gym the same two sports from 3:30 to 6 and 6:15 to 9:30; JK’s old gym housed the high school cheerleaders from 3:30 to 5:45 and rec basketball from 5:45 to 9:20; and George Washington rec basketball from 5 to 9.
Though Deptula said the sports change each season, “you could take any day during the year, and the schedule would be this packed,” he said. “And, this is just what gets used. You’re not seeing all of the requests for use that come in.”
During the day, board members said the facility will be used to hold Phys Ed classes in, especially on inclement weather days.
He also detailed the financing for the $3.8 million complex, which would all come from the district’s capital reserve account.
Money in the capital reserve account, he explained, can only be used on capital improvement projects, like facilities upgrades or construction.
Over the past five years, the board has voted to put the difference in funds between its projected budget and its actual expenses in the account, Deptula said. The amount averages about $1 million a year, he said.
“It’s prudent to save money in case [projects or facilities issues] come up,” he said. In the past, the district has used money from the capital reserve account to fund new wings at the Ridge and MHS with science and computer labs, upgrades to the MHS auditorium, renovations to art and science classrooms, upgrading computer labs, and updating the schools’ security system to include cameras, he said.
The proposal would “comfortably” leave enough money in the account to handle all of the projects in the district’s long term facilities plan, officials said.
Several residents who attended the meeting said they appreciated the explanation of the process, but questioned whether or not the athletic complex was the best use of the money. It will take up about 40% of the funds in the capital reserve account, district officials said.
Resident Evelyn Slockbauer said she felt there could be a better use for the money.
“Since it’s only the high school that has sports teams [in the district], and the rest are rec teams, maybe this is something the town should pursue,” she told the board. “I think there could be a better use of the money.”
Resident Mike Galow said he is neutral on building the complex, but questioned whether or not the board solicited enough ideas about what could be built before deciding to propose the athletic complex.
“The process doesn’t seem as competitive as it could have been,” Galow said.
He suggested the Board poll all building administrators and department heads, asking, “If you had $3 million to spend, what would you build?”
“It seems like [the athletic complex] goes into the ‘nice to have’ category,” Galow said.
Board members will likely vote on the proposal at their next meeting, on October 9.