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Opening Day Delayed for Five Princeton Schools

By Becky Melvin

Opening day for Princeton Regional Schools has been delayed one day because of unmet building code requirements at five district school buildings undergoing construction, officials said.

Originally scheduled to open Wednesday, with early dismissal, school is now scheduled to start on Thursday as a full day for all students.

Teachers, who were originally scheduled back on Tuesday, will be allowed into their classrooms on Wednesday to unpack, gather materials, and decorate.

The district's four elementary schools and middle school, which have been undergoing construction since March, failed to meet building code requirements on Monday related to safety issues, said John Pettenati, Princeton Township construction official.

The issues had to do with items such as regulating tap water temperatures and emergency safety lighting, including exit signs. Plumbing problems were also cited.

Deficiencies existed at all five buildings so temporary certificates of occupancy were not issued for any of the buildings.

The high school, where construction hasn't yet begun, was closed an extra day along with the lower schools because of a number of considerations, Charlotte Bialek, president of the Princeton School Board, said.

"We felt that just for a one-half day delay, we might as well open the whole district together on Thursday," Ms. Bialek said. Some parents were glad for the decision, she added, because, for example, they needed their high school students to baby-sit their middle schoolers.

Ms. Bialek said the decision to delay school opening wasn't made sooner because building code officials who toured the facilities on Friday came up with a list of deficiencies that the district was expected to be able to remedy in time for schools' opening on Wednesday. But another inspection on Monday resulted in additional items being added to the list of unmet building code requirements.

"There were a few things that they hadn't found previously," Ms. Bialek said. Not all of the problems related directly to the construction projects, Ms. Bialek said. Some had to do with old systems like plumbing. Therefore, construction contracts weren't being examined for penalty clauses for unmet work schedules.

On Tuesday another inspection was scheduled at noon. In addition to Mr. Pettenati, the inspection team was to include building inspectors, plumbing, fire, and electrical officials, the township engineer, and representatives of the health department.

Following Monday's inspection, a team of school district officials, including three school board officials and representatives of the teachers' association, toured the buildings, and the decision was made to delay school by one day.

"We don't have control over code officials," Ms. Bialek said on Tuesday prior to another inspection. "On Friday, they were very confident that we could have temporary certificates of occupancy on Tuesday. But they changed."

Ms. Bialek said she couldn't guarantee that schools would be open Thursday. Issues related to the health and safety of children, faculty and staff have to be resolved first. "If we have to, we can add days to the end of the year. The school calendar ends early this year on June 9," she added.

Ms. Bialek noted that the district has a strong team in place, including its construction management company and architectural firm, to keep the construction projects moving. But she said that the district is learning as it goes, and it has four more years of construction woes to fine-tune its skills.

"Everyone is working hard to get school started," she said. Last year, the opening of school was delayed due to the district's first-ever teachers' strike, and the year before that the start of school was rocked by the terrorist attacks on September 11.

Princeton Charter School, which operates with public funds but has its own charter and is independent from Princeton Regional Schools, opened Tuesday with a full day of classes for its 280 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

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