On appeal from the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Monmouth County.
King, Havey and Arnold M. Stein. The opinion of the court was delivered by Havey, J.A.D.
[270 NJSuper Page 500] Defendant Board of Education of the Freehold Regional High School District*fn1 (Regional Board) appeals from a March 2, 1993 Chancery Division judgment which permanently enjoins a public
referendum to "decommit" a new high school in Colts Neck. Construction of the high school had been authorized by the voters in a September 30, 1986 bond issue. The judgment also orders the Regional Board to construct the high school.*fn2 In a sixty-seven page written opinion dated February 16, 1993, Judge McGann determined that the Regional Board failed to demonstrate sufficient supervening circumstances to justify its avoidance of the September 30, 1986 referendum mandate. We affirm.*fn3
We need not relate in detail the abundant facts and complex expert testimony presented by all parties during the bench trial, since they are carefully detailed by Judge McGann in his comprehensive opinion. However, a brief Discussion of the relevant procedural history and operative facts is helpful.
In 1984, the Regional Board formed a Special Advisory Committee to study ways to accommodate growing student population in the district. The Committee was comprised of a cross-section of interested citizens, including representatives from each municipality's local board of education and governing bodies.
After preliminary studies conducted by Dr. Michael Macaluso, from the State Department of Education's Bureau of Facility Planning Services, the Committee retained Dr. Emanuel Averbach, highly experienced in long-range planning, education and related fields. Dr. Averbach was accepted by Judge McGann as an expert in "demographic enrollment projections in a long-range facility."
Dr. Averbach presented an extensive study in 1985, updated in 1986, reporting that because of projected increases in student
population, the district was in need of increasing its "effective capacity" by 1,300 student places. According to Dr. Averbach, in 1985 the district's "effective capacity" was 6,304. The actual student population in 1985 was 7,729 and would increase, according to the witness, to over 8,200 in 1994. "Effective capacity" was generally described by Dr. Averbach as a methodology which, given the educational programs offered, state limitations on class sizes and existing facilities, was the maximum number of students that could be legitimately accommodated. The witness declined to use "functional capacity," a concept employed by the State Department of Education, because the methodology assumed that every space will be filled by students at all times, even if the current educational program does not call for such use.*fn4
The Committee accepted Dr. Averbach's analysis and his use of the "effective capacity" methodology. It found that existing facilities were inadequate to meet the present needs of the district and "will be more so in the future due to population pressures and changes in State guidelines." It thereupon presented its report to the Regional Board recommending immediate "construction of a new high school with a capacity of 1300 in classroom space and 1600 in core facilities, to be located in the central eastern section of the Regional District." The Committee also recommended improvements to the district's existing high school facilities. Colts Neck Township, located in the central-eastern part of the district, offered to donate a seventy-acre tract for the new school.
On September 18, 1985, the Regional Board accepted the Committee's recommendations and adopted a resolution authorizing a bonding referendum seeking $30,361,000 for the new school and $6,082,000 for the improvements to the existing schools. The required consent by the State Commissioner of Education was
given. At the request of the Regional Board, in 1986 Dr. Averbach wrote a background article for a newsletter sent to the voters in the district which mentioned that the present "effective capacity" was 6,304, and the projected average enrollment for 1994 and 1995 would be 8,470. The referendum passed on September 30, 1986, by a vote of 2,950 to 2,042. The $36,443,000 in bonds were sold and Colts Neck conveyed the tract for the new school to the Regional Board.
Plaintiffs in the present action, the Board of Education and Township Committee of Colts Neck, filed their original suit against the Regional Board on January 13, 1989, claiming that the Board intended only to complete the improvements to the existing high schools without constructing the new high school. On February 1, 1989, Judge Selikoff dismissed plaintiffs' complaint, but in doing so relied on the Regional Board's counsel's representation that the Board had no intention of abandoning its referendum mandate ...