UPPER TOWNSHIP — Township employees are nearly finished with repairs to the middle and primary schools in an unusual partnership with the Board of Education.

After voters rejected a bond referendum in the spring, the Township Committee offered to provide township labor for repairs over the summer. The school board agreed to pay for materials.

Township employees — primarily carpenters — spent weeks adding with insulated walls to four classrooms and renovating bathrooms.

“They totally redid the eighth-grade bathrooms with new walls and fixtures,” Superintendent Vincent Palmieri said Monday.

They also replaced retractable walls in some classrooms with thicker, permanent ones that will provide some sound-proofing, he said.

“It’s beautiful now. You can be in one classroom and not hear the class in the other,” Palmieri said.

The board is regrouping after voters rejected a $9.5 million referendum in April to repair the middle and primary schools. The board’s buildings and grounds committee met Monday to select public members. This committee will make a recommendation about whether to pursue a second identical referendum or a modified one, Palmieri said.

The board also is considering rebuilding the elementary school.

Township Engineer Paul Dietrich said the Public Works Department is still tabulating costs for materials and the estimated savings for taxpayers in unnecessary contractor labor. 

The township for years has maintained the school ball fields, collected trash and plowed snow for the district. Likewise, the school board provided the use of school fields and gymnasiums for township recreation programs. But this was the first time the township freed up its own employees to do work on its schools.

“Obviously, these guys have to balance the requirements of what we need for the township and finding time to do this work at the school,” Mayor Richard Palombo said. “I think the Public Works guys were willing to help out to lend their expertise. Many of them are township residents as well. They have kids in the school system.”

Before the failed referendum, some residents accused the school district of postponing or neglecting school maintenance.

Palmieri said the district spent $1.9 million in recent years on school repairs. But some jobs, such as replacing all the doors and windows in the middle school, are simply too expensive to realistically include in an annual budget, he said.

“We allocate as much money as we can to facility needs,” he said.

Committeeman Frank Conrad said some residents made valid points.

“The school district did spend money. But I defend some of the critics as well,” he said. “Just because you spend money doesn’t mean you spend it in the right places. We saved them a significant amount of money.”

The Township Committee passed a resolution this month formalizing a shared-services agreement with the board for future repairs. 

“This was a great summer,” Palmieri said. “We got a lot of work done in a six-week period. We’ll continue that relationship. It’s going to continue to save taxpayers money.”

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