The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District could be looking at more than $50 million in school construction costs over the next 10 to 15 years to accommodate an influx of students from new developments.
Superintendent David Aderhold and George Duthie, district architect, presented scenarios to the Board of Education on March 27 for potential expansions at schools throughout the district.
Aderhold said that Duthie was asked to come up with possibilities of what can be done at the district’s existing school sites without the acquisition of additional property or building new schools.
He stressed that none of the plans are definite, and that the cost estimates for the projects were also very tentative.
“We’re not looking at it as, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” Aderhold said.
The most immediate need is for an expansion at Maurice Hawk School, which is at capacity, said Aderhold. Last month, the board authorized a contract with architectural firm Fraytak Veisz Hopkins Duthie to prepare the plans and specifications for the project. Aderhold said engineering survey work is taking place at the Maurice Hawk site, and he expects to come to the board to ask for authorization for more work in the near future.
He said ultimately, the board will have to make a decision about whether to proceed with expansion at Maurice Hawk and the other schools.
In the next 10-15 years, WW-P could see as many as 3,200 potential students added to the district.
“The questions of what the district should do, and what’s the right size for an elementary school, and what’s too big, are questions that have to be answered,” Aderhold said.
The Maurice Hawk expansion is part of what Aderhold called Phase 1, which is a total of 484 students. These children would be generated by projects in West Windsor that are expected to be built in the next few year years.
Overall, the district could see as many as 3,200 students added in the next 10-15 years.
“You’re talking (an increase) the size of the entire Robbinsville School District, most of it being on the West Windsor side of town,” Aderhold said.
Duthie said WW-P is expecting a “dramatic increase” in growth and enrollment over the next two to five years. Most school buildings are at or near capacity and there’s pressure to look at increased class sizes.
“We only have a short time frame to do something,” Duthie said.
The district has three options: an expansion of the current Maurice Hawk school, building a new school, or retrofitting a building that is currently not owned by the district.
Duthie outlined the timeline for the first phase expansion at Maurice Hawk. The district has already started the planning process, which would then be followed by getting approvals from government agencies and completing design work and construction documents in time to go out to bid by the end of this year. The timeline envisions starting construction next April, with estimated completion by July 2019.
One concept he presented was an addition in the open area between the current front of the school and Clarksville Road. Duthie said a “very rough” estimated cost is $12.5 million.
The concept plan calls for 16 classrooms, music and art rooms, and child-study office spaces. Four of those classrooms would be used for pre-K and those students would be transferred from Village School. That would open up four classrooms there to be used for fourth and fifth grade students.
Aderhold said the timeline presented for Maurice Hawk assumes that construction would be paid for out of the district’s capital reserves. If the district opted to bond the money, it would have to hold a referendum that would push the timeline back to 2020 at the earliest. In that case, there would be a need to find room for incoming students before the expansion could be finished if homes are built before then.
Also needed in the next few years are expansions at Grover Middle School and High School South.
Down the line, if the district pays for the Maurice Hawk addition with capital funds, then it would have to start putting “tremendous dollars” into reserves to pay for expansion at Grover and High School South, or will have to go to a referendum, Duthie said.
He presented a concept for Grover Middle School that showed a one-story addition that would add eight classrooms at an estimated cost of $4.4 million to $4.8 million. A two-story addition, at an estimated cost of $8.5 million to $8.8 million, would add 15 classrooms.
There is very little room on the High School South site for expansion, Duthie said. One idea is a one- or two-story expansion on the corner of the property near the intersection of Penn Lyle and Clarksville roads.
Duthie also presented long-term proposals to accommodate student growth at all the district schools.
Aderhold said that the district estimates that full buildout of residential projects as currently planned would add 200 to 300 students per grade.
At Maurice Hawk, there is room for a second phase of expansion that would make it a “very large school,” Duthie said. The concept showed a one- or two-story addition at the rear of the school that could add up to 48 classrooms.
Also added would be art and music classrooms, a dining area, a gymnasium and administrative space. The cost projection ranges from $22 million to $35 million.
“If this happened as a two-story addition, you’d be talking about an elementary school the size of High School South,” Aderhold said. When it comes time to make a decision, district officials will have to decide whether a building that size is a good idea, he said.
At High School North, there is some room for a one- or two-story expansion, should it be needed, Duthie said.
Aderhold said that the North site is the district’s biggest footprint at 90 acres. “Then the question becomes whether we are comfortable having one high school at 2,000 students (at North) and another at 1,600 (at South). Or one of 2,200 and 1,600. Or do we want to keep parity between size of school, and if we do, where do the other 600 potential students go?”
A potential phase two expansion at Grover Middle School would be added on to the phase one expansion and could require reconfiguration of the parking lots and driveways on the site near Southfield Road.
“Every one of these solutions comes with challenges when it comes to site design,” Duthie said.
A potential addition at Town Center School could be two stories and add eight classrooms at an estimated cost of $3.7 million.
Aderhold pointed out that the 100-unit affordable housing apartment project, recently approved by Plainsboro Township on Dey Road, will have an impact on Town Center School. He said that the project will send students to Town Center School, which is already at 100 percent capacity with no room available.
“We’re going to have to start looking at Town Center just like we’re looking at Hawk,” he said. “Town Center immediately starts becoming problematic when it comes to the number of students that will be coming there from future complexes.”
The alternative is to do nothing and then increase class sizes. “From a parent perspective, we’re not happy when we start hearing class sizes of 27 to 30. But if we are not proactive, those are the kinds of things we can be looking at in the future,” Aderhold said.
The Millstone River/Community Middle School property has some site constraints, said Duthie. The conceptual idea he presented for that school showed a small addition connecting the two schools.
Aderhold pointed out that Millstone River was originally built as an upper elementary school. By design, it was built with only one classroom with a bathroom. If there were a redistricting, the school could not be used as a K-5 building unless a Kindergarten or pre-K wing built there.
At Wicoff, there is enough room on the site to build a one-story addition with six to eight classrooms, or a two-story addition with 10 to 16 classrooms, said Duthie.