Official results came in Wednesday afternoon as 1,160 to 663 voter approval for a referendum that asked for a $7.5 million taxpayer contribution which, when combined with $5 million in state aid, will allocate $12.5 million for repair projects at Watchung Hills Regional High School.
The capital improvements include as a new roof, replacement of non-working ventilating systems and steam pipes more than a half-century old that school officials said have been malfunctioning.
The referendum, presented on Tuesday to voters in the sending districts of Warren Township, Watchung and Long Hill Township, officially passed by 497 votes, according to information from School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett.
She said the breakdown of votes was:
Watchung: Yes — 194; No — 113
Long Hill Township: Yes — 414; No — 264
Warren Township: Yes — 552; No — 286
After polls closed Tuesday, voting machines in two of the 13 districts in Warren Township were discovered to be malfunctioning and could not print results.
However, preliminary results of the majority of voting districts in the three sending towns indicated a vote of 1,045 yes and 607 against, Jewett said in an announcement at about 10:20 p.m. Tuesday.
Earlier during the day, voters in those towns had considered the referendum question of whether taxpayers should fund the list of projects identified as the regional high school district as critical. The state has pledged to fund the remaining $5 million through a statewide school construction initiative.
"I am overcome with excitement for the outcome and gratitude for the support shown by the community," the superintendent said Tuesday night as she awaited the final results.
The items on the list also included replacements and repairs to malfunctioning or non-functioning roof ventilating units improvement of an unpaved emergency access road incapable of accommodating maintenance or emergency vehicles, repaving of parking lots, redesign of the school cafeterias and more.
WHRHS Business Administrator Tim Stys told the audience last week that if the referendum didn't pass, the problems still will need to be fixed — and at a higher cost. "It's guaranteed later [they] will cost more," Stys said. "You have the state aid; in the future you don't know."
He said the projects listed in the referendum are listed by the state as "tier one" — meaning they affect health and safety.
According to school district figures, the impact of approving the referendum on the property taxes in the local towns are: Long Hill Township, another annual $46 in property tax on a home valued at $383,929; in Warren Township, another annual $53 on a home valued at $643,250; and in Watchung Borough, another $48 in a home valued at $628,724. Green Brook sends students to the high school on a tuition-paying basis.