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School District Construction Projects Slowed Down Due to Wet Weather

By David McNutt

Although the construction projects at John Witherspoon Middle School and each of the four elementary schools in the Princeton Regional School District have been delayed due to weather, the setbacks are not expected to postpone the opening of school.

"We had set a schedule for the work that was to be done before the beginning of school," said District Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn. "That has had to be scaled back because we had a tough spring."

Dr. Kohn attributed the delays to wet weather and the kindergarten orientation programs that were held this summer at each of the elementary schools.

"Right now, the plan is to go forward with the opening of school," added Dr. Kohn. "That's not to say that the principals, teachers, and students won't suffer some inconveniences."

Of primary concern, according to Dr. Kohn, is that the middle school cafeteria may not be ready for the beginning of school. Thus, at the start of the academic year, the district may require students to bring their own lunches or may shuttle food across the street from Princeton High School to the middle school.

"We never expected to have all of the construction done before the beginning of school," explained Dr. Kohn, who was scheduled to have a status analysis meeting with representatives from Epic, the district's construction management firm, on Tuesday, August 5. "We'll see what we can get done between now and the opening of school."

According to Dr. Kohn, it is "too early to tell" whether the current slowdowns will affect the completion date of the construction projects. "We may be behind schedule," she said, "but I can't say by how much."

Begun this March, the middle school project was originally expected to take 27 months, while the elementary school projects were slated for at least 15 months.

Approved Projects

The $36.4 million in improvements at the middle school and each of the elementary schools – contracts for which were awarded in January – is part of the district's $81.3 million, multi-year project.

Intended to facilitate new construction and renovations at each of the district's six schools, the project is being funded through a $61.3 million bond referendum approved by voters in May 2001, plus $20 million in state aid.

Among the additions scheduled at the middle school is an indoor swimming pool and a new academic wing. Riverside Elementary School is slated to receive a new library, two kindergarten classes, a music room, and a science room.

In addition, Johnson Park Elementary School will gain four classrooms; Littlebrook Elementary School is scheduled to add a new gymnasium, an art room, and a science room; and Community Park Elementary School will receive four classrooms, a new library, and an expanded cafeteria.

After withdrawing the PHS project from bidding and rejecting all the first-round bids for its projects at the elementary schools and the middle school last October, the School Board opened its second round of bids in December.

While bids regarding the four elementary schools were under budget, those related to the project at the middle school exceeded the district's budget by approximately $1 million, and the bids for PHS were over budget by roughly $14 million.

After approving redesigns of the PHS plan in February, the School Board put the project back out to bid on July 30. Response bids from general contracting firms are due back on September 17.

Hoping that the redesigns will enable the requisite savings, the School Board intends to award a contract for the work at its September 23 meeting.

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