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Hoboken wants $241 million to build a high school with a rooftop soccer field

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(Bloomberg) — Voters in Hoboken, one of New Jersey’s fastest-growing cities, will be asked Tuesday to approve a bond referendum for a new high school — complete with a rooftop soccer field and ice rink — that will cost more than $200,000 US dollars per student.

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The $241 million proposal has sparked a frenzy of passionate debate in the square mile city across the Hudson River from Manhattan after years of pandemic education fractured school communities across the US

Supporters of the new high school cite the need for more classrooms as enrollment surges and the risk of an even more expensive project if construction is delayed. Critics say the money would be better spent on improving education to help students who have lost ground to distance learning.

“It’s exorbitantly expensive,” said Pavel Sokolov, 29, a member of the local Republican Party and founder of Hoboken for Public Schools, a group of residents who helped organize resistance to the referendum. “This proposal is not aimed at academics, it only focuses on luxury amenities.”

The Hoboken Board of Education’s proposal calls for a four-story, 375,000-square-foot building with an indoor pool, an aquaponics lab, an 800-seat auditorium, a 295-seat theater, dozens of classrooms and a range of athletic facilities.

The project’s architect, Frank Tedesco, a director at Mount Vernon Group Architects, said the cost is about $500 per square foot. That aligns “exactly” with high schools in the Northeast, he said at a virtual briefing on Jan. 13.

The school would have a capacity of about 1,200. A high school under construction in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, would accommodate 3,300 students and cost $283.8 million, or about $86,000 per child.

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Once a destination primarily for young single professionals, Hoboken has experienced a surge in population as residents settled, married and had children. Enrollment in public schools has increased 27% over the past decade. Hoboken High School freshman enrollment was 166 students this year, the highest in 10 years. For kindergarten through fifth graders, where capacity pressures are greatest, enrollment increased by 57%.

A demographic study commissioned by the Hoboken Board of Education shows that high school enrollment will increase from 461 to 814 over the next decade. The existing building has a capacity of 1,100; the new one would accommodate a maximum of about 100 more students, freeing up space in the lower schools.

“This proposal involves a new high school, but also involves a complete transformation of the entire district,” said Sharyn Angley, President of the Board.

In recent years, some of the wealthier families who have moved to Hoboken have sought alternatives to the public school system, creating a gap between the population’s composition, which is 81% White, and the student body, which is 51% White in 2019 White stock, arose. 2020

“For years, we haven’t necessarily served a school population that reflects that of the community,” Hoboken Superintendent Christine Johnson said, adding that 70% of the high school population is low-income. “We’re a 1 square mile city with three charter schools, which is almost unheard of.”

property values

The project has the backing of Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, a Democrat, who noted the benefits of the community and the roughly 60 years since the city’s high school was last upgraded.

“This is a world-class city, it’s about time it has world-class high school facilities,” Bhalla said in a statement. “With a top-notch high school, families will think twice before leaving Hoboken for the schools or sending their children to private schools. This, in turn, will significantly increase the property value of all residents.”

The Hoboken School Board plans to fund the construction with a 30-year bond, which carries an interest rate of 2.2% and would total approximately $331 million including debt service. The district estimates that property taxes for residents would increase by about 6%. For a two-bedroom apartment valued at $778,000, that’s about $726 per year.

The prospects for the referendum are unclear. Over the past 20 years, total annual expenditure approval rates for school construction have ranged from 26% in 2010 to 84% in 2003.

“If it happens legally and goes through, I’m sure there would be a lot of demand,” said Daniel Solender, head of local government at Lord Abbett & Co., adding that demand depended on the bond’s structure and rating gonna hang out

Hoboken is one of 31 urban counties the state Supreme Court has mandated to ensure spending per student matches that of wealthier suburbs. New Jersey’s Schools Development Authority typically funds construction in these poorer neighborhoods, but does not fund Hoboken’s high school project.

Hoboken will also not receive direct financial support from the state, as is usual with the issuance of school bonds. Out of 10 school referendums on Election Tuesday in New Jersey totaling $395 million, Hoboken is the only one not receiving federal support. Johnson said state regulations prohibit districts from receiving both state aid and SDA funds, which Hoboken is tapping into for a separate elementary school project.

“We will of course continue to pursue the possibility of obtaining some form of debt service assistance,” Johnson said.

As part of the district plan, the existing high school will be converted into a new middle school, and the existing middle school will become the district’s fourth elementary school.

Amy Duskin, a resident and mother of 3, volunteered with Friends of the New Hoboken High School to build support for the bond. With completion slated for the start of the 2025-2026 school year, her second grade son would reap the rewards.

“I understand it’s going to cost money,” said Duskin, who estimates her tax bill will increase by about $60 a month. “The only thing I want to say to people is that our children and the future of Hoboken are worth the money.”

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