Time’s up for talk about school plans

Princeton Board of Education’s Facilities Committee decides it is now too late to make any more changes to $81.3 million project.

By: Jeff Milgram
   They’ve fielded countless questions and complaints about parking, open space and athletics.
   They’ve sought input, listened patiently and included many of the ideas into the design of the $81.3 million school renovation and expansion project.
   On Thursday, the Princeton Regional Board of Education’s Facilities Committee said, in effect, "enough is enough." The committee will listen, but will make no promises to change its designs and site plans.
   Well, sort of.
   The committee agreed it is too late to make design changes and that any revisions would be made as change orders after construction begins, if at all. Plans already have been approved by a reviewing agency and changes now would mean delays and additional costs, committee members said.
   "If you want this to stay on time and on budget, we have to stay the course," Superintendent Claire Sheff Kohn said Thursday. "We are going forward with the bidding process. If change orders would save money and meet our goals," they would be considered, she said.
   The board will go out to bid in the middle of July and is scheduled to award contracts at the end of August, Dr. Kohn said. Construction would begin in September and end about five years later.
   The committee spent two hours discussing the site plans, including the plan for student drop-off for the Littlebrook School. The plan would require the destruction of 13 trees and a "substantial" loss of green space for a net increase of 10 parking spaces, said board member Walter Bliss.
   "I believe the Littlebrook School community will be increasingly concerned once they see it," said Mr. Bliss, who toured the site recently.
   Mr. Bliss, an attorney who specializes in land use cases, argued that there would be enough time to revise the site plan, because the landscaping work is at least a year away.
   "I think we can save the green space, save the trees and save money," Mr. Bliss said.
   Dr. Kohn said the board has made several changes to its designs "to accommodate competing interests."
   Board President Charlotte Bialek said, "Walter, you’re late. … We’ve got to go out to bid. … We’ve made more compromises than any of us wanted to."
   Dr. Kohn said the school board’s willingness to listen to different pressure groups may have contributed to the problem.
   "Our wanting to be open does send a mixed message. … The assumption is that we’re going to make changes," she said.
   Board member Michael Mostoller, an architect, said, "This is an impossible situation. The train has left the station."
   Dan DelMar, project manager for Epic Management Inc., the board’s construction management company, said the process in Princeton has been the most open he has ever seen, but it’s time to end the changes.
   "I don’t think you are going to make your schedule if you make any more changes," Mr. DelMar said.
   Dr. Kohn suggested, and the committee agreed, to discuss changes at Littlebrook at the board’s next meeting on June 11, and then invite the school’s principal, Katherine Patten, the board’s civil engineer, William B. Edwards, and Princeton Township police to the Facilities Committee’s meeting on June 13.
   "We are already short of parking (at Littlebrook)," Dr. Kohn said. "I would not want to make a decision without the principal."
   "I would like to say the status quo is not that bad (at Littlebrook)," Mr. Bliss said.
   "I would like to hear Kathy Patten say the status quo is not so bad," said Anne Burns, Facilities Committee chairwoman.
   Ms. Patten was unavailable for comment Thursday.