Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Chatham wants to put school labs in hot water, literally


CHATHAM–The school district is proposing a $5-million project that school officials say will have a no tax impact on voters. The project, which deals with repairs needed for educational programming, energy efficiency and compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, will be funded with federal economic stimulus money, funds from a capital reserve and money not used from the district’s last capital project.

“You have to invest in the infrastructure,” said schools Superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo in an interview this week.

The district facilities committee put together a list of issues in the district, and SEI Design Group was hired by the district to create a summary of building needs. At this point school board members have seen the estimated costs for each part of the proposed project, but Ms. Nuciforo said those numbers are very preliminary, and there is also state aid available for all parts of the project. All the total projected costs are available to the public.

In the summery from SEI the Mary E. Dardess (MED) Elementary School needs $1.5 million in work; the middle school total is set at $893,063; the high school is budgeted for $2 million in repairs and upgrades. There is also $61,000 budgeted for the bus garage behind the middle school and $13,000 for gutter repairs at the Chatham Public Library, which is connected to the middle school and operated by the school district.

The middle school had an upgrade project about 10 years ago, said Ms. Nuciforo, so the major work for this project is focused on the elementary and high schools. The MED School has the cooking kitchen for the district, and the project calls for an upgrade in appliances, replacement of the walk-in freezer and new energy-efficient windows. As for ADA compliance, the school needs bathrooms in the 1st and 2nd grade wings.

Also planned for MED are energy-efficient lights in the gym and cafeteria, upgrades to the school library/media center and a gate to separate the lower leveling parking from the playground. And Ms. Nuciforo said that to meet new building standards, the art room kiln must be moved to a separate room.

Ms. Nuciforo pointed out that some high school science rooms don’t have hot water, a situation that doesn’t meet educational goals. So hot water plumbing is part of the proposed project, along with new chemical hoods and lab tables. She also talked about making space for aerobic equipment in the weight room to meet new physical education standards. The ADA issues in that building also involve accessible bathrooms.

The biggest expense in the proposed project is $600,000 for the new lights and poles for the athletic fields. There was much debate about whether or not this project would be placed on the special election ballot as a separate proposition, apart from all the other improvement work at the schools. The current lights do not meet the standards of other schools, said Ms. Nuciforo, “That’s why we put it on the table.” 

The board hopes to finalize the language for the proposition of propositions this month and hold a special election in January.

Ms. Nuciforo emphasized that this proposal would have no tax impact on district residents. They will be using one-time federal stimulus money, about $500,000 left over from the last capital project and some of the funds in the capital reserve account, which contains funds set aside specifically for these kinds projects.

The superintendent said the board and district officials are “managing our resources to take care of the facilities.”

The board will continue to debate the scope of the proposed work at its next workshop meeting November 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school library. For more information go to the district website,


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