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Ongoing School Construction Continues to Be on Track According to the Officials

By Liane Yvkoff

Despite having contractors working double shifts for the past month, Princeton Regional School Board Vice President Anne Burns said the school renovation and construction budget is in excellent financial shape. She made this comment at a meeting last Tuesday night of the Regional School Board, the final meeting before this week's opening of schools.

Ms. Burns cautioned this would not be a typical school year opening, since some aspects of the planned summer renovations will not be completed and construction will be ongoing throughout the school year.

Despite the last-minute rush to completion, facilities committee chairperson Michael Mostoller said there had been good progress throughout the summer. He explained that 80 to 90 percent of the work has been completed, and that construction crews were working on last-minute details and finishing touches.

According to School Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn, the school areas that will not be finished in time for opening day include administrative offices and the nurse's suite in all four elementary schools: Johnson Park, Community Park, Littlebrook, and Riverside. She said, "We do not need offices and we can relocate the nurse. What is critical is the number of bathrooms."

School administrators have been working in trailers at the high school over the summer and will temporarily occupy school art rooms until their offices are completed. Teachers have not had access to their classrooms and material all summer, and were not permitted into the buildings until Wednesday, September 3.

But some in attendance were troubled at the way the project was going. Suzanne Thompson, co-president of the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), read a letter expressing PREA's concern over health and safety issues, especially in the area of air quality, resulting from the renovations.

These concerns were echoed by several parents in the audience, who also were interested in learning more about air quality levels and the steps being taken to ensure clean air amid ongoing construction during the school year. A parent of a Riverside student, Jane Jemas, said about the quality of the air, "It's the things that you can't see that are a concern."

Mr. Mostoller assured them that the project managers are enforcing industry standards to ensure that dust does not travel trough the air ducts and contaminate other areas of the schools.

Princeton resident Beth Ogilvie-Freda questioned board members about their oversight of the project. "This is an $80 million project affecting many people. We want to know that major decisions are being made with as much information as possible from all parties as well as your own eyes," she said.

Dr. Kohn responded that specific problems are being solved as they arise. Board member Joshua Leinsdorf added, "We have to trust the people we have hired," and emphasized that parents should keep calm because safety was the board's primary concern.

In addition to assuring those at the meeting that Mr. Mostoller is working with an industrial hygienist consultant to monitor air quality and has the proper protocols in place to ensure a clean-air environment, Dr. Kohn agreed to share data on air quality and the consultant's recommendations as they become available.

In other business, Ms. Burns announced the hiring of 62 new teachers and staff members, of whom 18 are minorities, and the promotion of Lynn O'Grady to director of guidance at Princeton High School.

Mr. Mostoller announced that he will have recommendations on bids for the Princeton High School construction project at the September 23 School Board meeting.

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