By a slim 62-vote margin, Ridgewood residents approved a nearly $48.3 million ballot measure Tuesday, ensuring expansions and renovations to nine village schools and three athletic fields.
With 50.66 percent of the vote, the measure passed, 2,119 to 2,057, with official numbers awaiting from the county on provisional ballots. A simple majority was required.
About 25.3 percent of the total eligible voters turned out, numbering 4,183 votes cast in person and 129 absentee ballots. There are 16,538 registered voters in Ridgewood.
"This is an investment in our facilities, in students' education, and in the education of those yet to go through the schools here," Superintendent Daniel Fishbein said.
With approval, residents are now responsible for $38.4 million, with the remaining funds coming from state grants and debt service.
At the Education Center, Board of Education members, administrators, and citizens for the referendum celebrated their win.
"It was a lot closer, but I think in retrospect, with these economic times, certainly the thing that sold it, I'd hope, was the state stepping it up $12 million," board Vice President Bob Hutton said. "Were voters apprehensive? Yes. But in Ridgewood, investing in our public school system equals value for the village."
On the citizens' committee for the referendum, Gary Muzio had a theory on the low turnout. "A lot of people were supportive philosophically, but with the hard economic times, rather than vote against it [people] stayed at home."
Board member Sheila Brogan has served for 14 years and through four referendums, three of which were successful.
"I'm actually surprised at [the lower turnout]. It's a gigantic investment in our schools. This hits you in the pocketbook," she said. "I mean, it's amazing to me why you wouldn't vote."
The projects include expansions to George Washington Middle School, and Willard, Ridge, and Hawes elementary schools totaling about $23.5 million.
Additionally, renovations to all six elementary schools, both middle schools, and the high school will include roofing improvements, room occupancy sensors, and upgraded doors, windows, and temperature-control systems, among other repairs. Athletic turf will be installed at the high school stadium and Stevens Field, in addition to a new track at Ben Franklin.
Poll workers from 11 locations representing 19 districts marched into Village Hall after 9:30 p.m. last night where Village Clerk Heather Mailander ensured proper counting and adherence to official proceedings.
Although "runners" from the schools predicted a favorable outcome when polls closed at 9 p.m., precincts finished reporting in at 9:45 p.m.
Throughout the day at scattered locations, poll watchers reported a consistent hum of activity.
A male worker at Benjamin Franklin said, "We've had a constant trickle. A slow trickle, but a constant one.. You'd figure people would be out the door with this vote."
Turnout was higher in areas with schools being effected. For example, the district with the most voters—District One, at 34.6 percent—represents Willard Elementary, which will receive about $7.4 million in funding. District 10, representing Orchard Elementary, only saw a 15.6 percent turnout for a school that will receive only about $25,000.
By a 48-74 margin, people voting via absentee ballots overwhelmingly disapproved the measure. The county counted the 129 votes.
Geographically, people in western Ridgewood approved the measure while those in the east disapproved. Although the board tried to downplay the west side receiving more money, it seems local interest had a hand in voters' decisions. The most "No" votes—151—came in District 12, voting at the high school in eastern Ridgewood. Similarly, the most "Yes" votes, 190, came from District One, at Willard.
Up next is the official planning and eventually, putting contracts out for bids. Fishbein said the administration would probably meet with the architect by the end of this week.