The History of School Referendums in Midland Park
By Rebecca K. Abma
The recent school referendum that Midland Park voters rejected in December 2012 follows a pattern as old as the borough. Over the past 120 years, Midland Park voters have rejected twice as many school improvement proposals than they have approved, with some projects being scaled down over and over again before finally passing.
Midland Park Press gathered data from the borough's history books, the Board of Education office and the recollections of longtime residents to piece together a timeline of school facility upgrades and referendums. Not all of the information was readily available, and much of it is incomplete, but we hope the picture presented speaks for itself:
1903 to 1905
The Midland Park Board of Education's first referendum took place in 1903, and took “several attempts” before it passed. The winning proposal was to build a brick annex to the only public school in town: a two-story, four room schoolhouse built in 1866.
The schoolhouse — at the corner of Godwin and Franklin avenues, the current site of the Midland Park Memorial Library — was valued at $6,500. On May 10, 1905, voters approved a $8,000 addition, which was completed in 1908 at a cost of $6,341.
1922 to 1923
By the early 1920s, enrollment had more than doubled and the Board of Education asked voters for funds to build a new school. The first two proposals for what would eventually become Highland School were turned down.
In August 1922, voters rejected a two-part question (a) to purchase land for a maximum of $8,400 and (b) to build and furnish the school at a maximum of $260,000. Of the almost 200 ballots cast, 127 opposed the land purchase and 136 opposed to the building.
The referendum went back to voters in October 1922, and failed again 166 to 67. A Citizen's Advisory Committee was created in April 1923 and put forth three plans:
- Build another addition to the original school structure;
- Built two small schools;
- Build one 20-room building with no auditorium.
When it went to referendum in December 1923, voters approved the third plan 218-to-85 in favor of building Highland School at a cost of $166,680.
A few weeks later, on Jan. 5, 1924, the original school building burned down. The insurance money from the school would be used toward an auditorium at Highland School. Classes were temporarily held in Wyckoff Public Schools, Midland Park Christian School, church classrooms and council chambers.
In early 1926, Midland Park voters rejected a referendum to renovate the basement at Highland School. The proposal for training and home economic areas would have been paid for primarily through State grants.
The plan was resubmitted later in the year and passed 182-to-50. Meanwhile, construction of a school auditorium began in September 1926 and was completed by spring 1927. The cost of the auditorium was $34,500, of which $23,000 came from insurance from the fire of 1924.
The 1950s population boom caused enrollment to swell again, making an additional school building necessary. Details about the cost and funding for Godwin School, and voter support of referendums appear to be lost to history. The available information shows that Godwin was built in two phases: six rooms completed in 1952, and five more rooms were added by September of 1954 to keep up with the growing K-9 district.
Prior to the 1950s, Midland Park high schoolers went out of district. High school students attended Ridgewood High School until 1935, and after that, they attended Pompton Lakes until 1957. But in 1954, Pompton Lakes school officials announced it would no longer have room for Midland Park students after 1957, which lead Midland Park to explore a high school of its own.
On June 2, 1955, voters approved a $1.4 million bond referendum to construct the Midland Park Junior-Senior High School on 22.2 acres of the Blom's Dairy property. The school opened September 1957 with 32 classrooms, a library, gymnasium, three guidance offices, administrative space, music and industrial rooms, homemaking rooms and a double cafeteria. The school housed 484 students, including out-of-district students from Wanaque and Waldwick.
1960 to 1963
Between 1950 and 1960, the population of Midland Park increased by 45 percent, to 7,543 residents. The schools were so overcrowded that the high school ran on a double sessions from September 1961 to June 1963 and satellite elementary classrooms were rented from the Midland Park Christian Reformed Church.
In May 1963, a referendum for the addition of five classrooms and one all-purpose room at Godwin School, at a cost of $300,000, passed by a vote of 504-to-263.
The 1964 book “Midland Park Through the Years” reports additional athletic facilities and a language lab at the high school were constructed in 1962, however there is no mention of the cost or funding source for the projects were funded or if voter approval was required.
1972 to 1974
Midland Park Junior-Senior High School was expanded again in 1974, after Midland Park became a receiving district for Ho-Ho-Kus. Few details are available about the 1974 referendum that added Memorial Hall. “Midland Park: The First Century of an American Community,” published in 1997 by the Centennial Committee and edited by Villadom Times publisher Ester Vierheilig notes Highland School was updated with new windows around this time as well.
Exact details and dollar amounts of the 1974 referendum were not recorded in the borough history books.
It is unclear what, if any, referendum projects were put forth during the 1980s and 1990s. We were unable to confirm or refute a passing mention of a 1983 referendum.
2000 to 2003
On Dec. 12, 2000, Midland Park voters rejected a proposal for $25.4 million in additions and renovations at the three schools, funded in part by a State Grant for $5.5 million. If approved, the district would have bonded $19.9 million.
Exact project details and voting breakdown was not available, but members of the school board at that time recall plans at the high school included a separate building for middle school students, renovations of Memorial Hall and upgrades to the sports fields and track, which, along with elevators at the elementary schools, were eliminated from the project when it went back to the voters in 2003.
On March 11, 2003, voters approved a scaled down plan for $12.2 million worth of additions and renovations at the three schools. The project was funded through $3.4 million state grant, $3 million from a “lease purchase agreement” and $5.9 million in bonds.
Exact project details and voting breakdown was not available. The main project completed from this referendum was at Highland School, with the conversion of the gym/auditorium into a media center.
On Dec. 11, 2012, Midland Park voters rejected a $15.3 million buildings referendum. The two-part plan was defeated 1,097-to-617 for the first question, which included renovations and repairs at all three schools to fix building infrastructure, improve energy efficiency and upgrade facilities to be ADA compliant. The second question, rejected 1,130-to-487, included improvements to the track and fields and renovations to the Memorial Hall auditorium, both of which were cut from the failed 2000 referendum.
Here is a breakdown of the detailed cost estimate of the projects included in the 2012 failed referendum. All numbers have been rounded off and projects are listed in order of most expensive to least expensive at the three schools:
Midland Park Junior-Senior High School: $8.8 million
- $2.6 million in site improvements, including (from question 2) replacing the track and bleachers, installing a turf field and fixing the baseball field
- $2.1 million to replace roof, soffits, windows and exterior doors
- $1.3 million for building improvements, including replacing floors, ceiling tiles and toilet partitions, and (from question 2) renovations to the auditorium
- $1.3 million in mechanical improvements, including replacing boiler controls and repairing HVAC and plumbing.
- $800,000 for the fire alarm system, emergency signage, ADA compliant toilets, ramps and door handles
- $630,000 for electrical capital improvements including intercom, security and an emergency generator
Highland Elementary School: $3.8 million
- $1.4 million for to replace the boiler and convert the heating system to hot water from steam
- $875,000 for the replacement of windows, roof and soffits, and exterior repairs
- $600,000 for replacement of flooring, ceiling tiles and toilet partitions
- $350,000 for exterior site improvements
- $340,000 for Code/ADA compliance upgrades
- $270,000 for electrical improvements and security upgrades
Godwin Elementary School: $2.6 million
- $700,000 to replace windows, roof and soffits and repair exterior
- $600,000 to repair and replace plumbing, heating and air conditioning
- $600,000 for electrical improvements
- $300,000 for interior repairs including new floors and bathrooms
- $225,000 for exteriors improvements including altering the hill in front of the school for safety purposes
- $200,000 for Code/ADA compliance upgrades
Looking To The Future
When and if the Board of Education decides to go out for another referendum, and what the district plans will include remains to be seen. What projects would you like to see completed at the schools? What upgrades do you think are necessary? What do you think the schools should wait on? Tell Us in the Comments.
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