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School Board Faces Budget Concerns, Construction Delays

Candace Braun

Parental concerns, unforeseen poor weather conditions, and general unexpected costs have put the Princeton Regional School District's $81.3 million construction project for all six schools more than $700,000 over budget, announced Finance Chairman Alan Hegedus at the School Board meeting on Tuesday, December 16.

Not only that, but construction has been delayed anywhere from one month for John Witherspoon Middle School's gym addition, to nine months for Littlebrook Elementary School renovations.

While the completion of the middle school's lunch room, due back in September, is expected by the end of this month, Littlebrook renovations, scheduled for completion by February, could be delayed until next November, according to a report distributed by Michael Mostoller, facilities chairman.

As of last Tuesday, 33 percent of the middle school project is complete, while Community Park and Johnson Park are 68 percent complete, and Littlebrook and Riverside are 61 percent complete.

The high school, which just started construction last month, does not have enough work completed to provide a report, said Mr. Hegedus.

Contingency funds for the schools are also being quickly depleted, said Mr. Hegedus. The funds, which are five percent of the overall cost that is put aside for change orders and unexpected costs, are 213 percent over the allotted amounts for Littlebrook and Riverside.

Some unexpected costs at the schools that have come up include $50,000 in custodial overtime to clean up from construction at the start of school and additional money to counter the costs for flooding at the middle school, which postponed the design and installation of the engineered bracing system in the basement.

Construction on all four elementary schools has been virtually halted for the time being while a $130,000 ventilation system is installed in each building, said Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn at the December 16 meeting.

In addition, testing for asbestos and the cleanliness of pipes, air, and water have cost the District at least $45,000.

"These are all things that have been done to meet the parents' concerns," said Mr. Hegedus. Because of these unexpected expenses, he noted, other projects that were postponed for the time being may not go through, such as replacement furniture and fixtures at the four elementary schools and middle school.

"At the rate at which we're chewing through the contingency funds, other possible projects won't go through," Mr. Hegedus said.

A second ballot question in April may ask taxpayers for an additional $1.5 million to cover these costs.

One Littlebrook parent, Camm Epstein, said that concerns being brought to the Board's attention are still not being addressed. He pointed out that construction materials continue to be piled up against heating and air conditioning intakes at the schools.

Mr. Epstein, who has spoken at other Board meetings, said he felt that construction hazards should be addressed on a regular basis by an employee of the district.

"Parents shouldn't have to be monitors for these problems," he added.

Dr. Kohn said that school principals should be notified when there is a concern, as they have direct access to an Epic Construction manager on the site.

In other news, the Health and Safety Committee met to review the second draft of the Health and Safety Plan on Wednesday, December 17. The plan is expected to be made public by the beginning of January.

In addition, Dr. Kohn announced that a newsletter updating parents and students on construction will be sent out at the end of February.

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