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Schools Prepare Opening Day Contingency Plans

Becky Melvin

As planned, Princeton Regional Schools will be open for classes September 3, but with construction projects underway at five of the six district schools, contingency plans were being prepared in case one or more of the buildings can't be ready in time, said Jeffrey Graber, assistant superintendent of the Princeton Regional School District.

In the event that one of the four elementary schools isn't ready to receive students a possible contingency might be to divide students among the other three schools. Another option might be for a third-party facility to be used to conduct classes temporarily.

"A number of different options are being considered at this point in case there is a need to reassign students to another location," said Dr. Graber.

He declined to comment specifically on contingency plans as they were "still evolving." Dr. Graber also declined to single out the school or schools that wouldn't be ready.

Concern seemed to center around Riverside Elementary School and Community Park Elementary School, according to sources. But Dr. Graber declined to comment on this.

The district's $81.3 million, multi-year project is intended to provide new construction and renovations at each of its six schools. The project is being funded through a $61.3 million bond referendum approved by voters in May 2001, and $20 million in state aid.

Dr. Graber said Johnson Park Elementary School was in good shape even though construction was still underway, and that construction hadn't even yet begun at the high school.

Several programs were hosted by Johnson Park this summer amid construction without incident, he said.

In regard to the status of school buildings, Dr. Graber said, "We will know definitely by the end of this week as we're gaining a much finer understanding of [construction] progress."

According to one source, asbestos abatement delays threw construction schedules off.

With the first day of school two weeks away, construction crews were in full swing on Tuesday at Riverside and Littlebrook Elementary Schools. Administrative offices were gutted, with wiring and lighting yet to be done, classrooms were torn up, rest rooms were in demolition, and expanded parking areas were being readied for paving.

Outside additions were framed or nearly framed and being readied to attach to existing structures.

At John Witherspoon Middle School, heavy equipment was stationed at the site, the grass was torn up on all four sides of the property, excavation was prepared on one side of the facility, while a mountain of dirt stood on the other side.

The administrative personnel of several schools were being housed temporarily in trailers at the high school to do paper work and other tasks related to preparations for opening day.

"We're meeting about this daily; and monitoring the situation on an hourly basis," Dr. Graber said.

"If we need to – if there's a school that isn't ready – then we will make adjustments," he said. "But the bottom line is that we're prepared to open."

He said the community would be notified of any contingency plans through various means including class lists, the district's web site, and local media.

When asked about conducting school in buildings that are undergoing construction, Dr. Graber stressed that student safety continues to be the first priority of the school board and administrators.

He mentioned that last spring, construction was underway at the middle school, and construction crews, staff, students, and administration worked together through it. "I was not aware of any serious problems," he said. Conversations with school district personnel indicate that the people who fill these buildings in September are ready to go. Asked whether the facilities will be ready, several responded, "That's what they're telling us."

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