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Problems Emerge After Late Opening Of Princeton Regional School District

Candace Braun

While unforeseen problems have sprouted up at three of the four elementary schools since the Princeton Regional School District began its year, Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn says the concerns are being taken care of as soon as they arise.

"We troubleshoot problems every year," said Dr. Kohn.

Some of the problems Dr. Kohn is referring to are adhesive fumes at Johnson Park School caused by the new roof that is being put on the school. Students and staff complained last week of symptoms such as feeling sick and having itchy skin and hoarseness.

An additional complication involved a sewer line back-up at Community Park School. Faculty and students were forced to use bathrooms at the Valley Road Building across the street last Monday when in-school facilities weren't usable.

Riverside experienced a mold problem on the same day, along with iron deposits in the drinking water. While the mold problem was corrected before the day was over, the water problem forced students and faculty to drink bottled water.

According to Dr. Kohn, some issues that have occurred, such as the mold, are incidents that often occur at the start of school. She said these problems, for the most part, are unrelated to the ongoing construction. "These things happen every year. It's not all related to construction," said Dr. Kohn. "We have six buildings, and they are old. That's why we had the referendum."

A $61.3 million bond referendum was approved by voters on May 15, 2001 as part of a multi-year project to improve all six schools in the district. On top of the referendum, an additional $20 million was awarded to the district in state aid. The money was necessary to make many improvements needed in all six schools in the district.

Opening for the district was already delayed one day due to unmet building code requirements at five of the six buildings. Originally scheduled to open Wednesday, September 3, with an early dismissal, the schools were all forced to wait an extra day before allowing students to enter the buildings. Faculty were allowed to enter on Wednesday to unpack, gather materials, and prepare their classrooms for the first day of school.

Some of the issues that were cited when the buildings were inspected on September 1 included problems with tap water temperatures, emergency safety lighting, and plumbing. Deficiencies existed at all five buildings under construction, and temporary certificates of occupancy were not issued for any of the schools. Construction has not yet begun on the high school building, but its opening was also delayed so that all schools in the district could open together.

Dr. Kohn said that a big concern with delaying school opening more than one day would be the days added on at the end of the school year. She said this would conflict with the start of construction on the high school next summer.

Another issue was that parents, particularly those who work, were depending on school opening that week. "It's not just the simple matter of closing the school," said Dr. Kohn. "We can't close school every time an issue happens ... People rely on us to keep school open."

Construction and renovations in the district's schools began in March. Plans include new gymnasiums at Littlebrook, John Witherspoon Middle School, and the high school, as well a new music room for Community Park, and a new media center at Riverside.

The middle school and high school will have the most improvements and additions. John Witherspoon can expect to have a new eight-lane pool in a few years, along with new science, art, and technology wings. The high school construction will not start until next summer and has an expected improvement cost of $32 million. Improvements include a new auditorium, new classroom wing, five new tennis courts, reseeded and regraded playing fields and a renovated stadium with artificial turf.

The elementary schools are slated for completion after approximately a year of construction, said Dr. Kohn. The middle school completion date can be anticipated within the next few years, and the high school construction and renovations, which have yet to begin, have been estimated to take three years.

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