High school plan dependent upon a series of approvals

School, at $82.9M,
costs considerably less
than previous proposal

By nida khan
Staff Writer

School, at $82.9M,

costs considerably less

than previous proposal

By nida khan

Staff Writer

MONROE — A corner of Thompson Park now occupied by woods and soccer fields may one day be home to a three-story high school.

Superintendent of Schools Ralph Ferrie expressed his support for such a plan during an April 9 Board of Education meeting, held the same week that Mayor Richard Pucci announced that township officials would work to obtain the property by swapping land with Middlesex County, which owns the park.

Voters will be asked in a Dec. 9 referendum to approve the construction of a new high school across School House Road from the present high school. That facility will be transformed to a middle school for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The plan also includes the conversion of what is now the Applegarth School into what would be the township’s fifth elementary school.

"This is a win-win situation for everybody," board President Joseph Homoki said of the idea to build a new high school on land in Thompson Park.

Officials announced that the entire project will cost $82.9 million — which is about $30 million less than the cost of a similar proposal defeated by voters in a September 2002 referendum.

The previous plan included nearly $9 million to buy land on Applegarth Road. The new proposal also saves on facility costs, as the high school students will be able to use the athletic fields and performing arts center across the street on the site of the present high school.

With state aid for the project estimated to be close to $15 million for the project, the local share to be funded by taxpayers is about $67.9 million, Ferrie said.

The proposed high school would have a capacity of 1,800 students and would create a campus-like setting where both high school and middle school students share facilities, school officials said. The school would be built at the corner of Perrineville and School House roads, with frontage on School House Road.

Officials are discussing whether the school campuses will be connected by an elevated walkway over School House Road.

The construction still requires a series of approvals, including the passage of the referendum, which will come more than a year after Monroe residents voted down a more expensive plan to build a new high school on Applegarth Road and make other school improvements.

In order for the school district to use the land in Thompson Park, approval must be given by both the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and a state committee.

Monroe officials are expected to present plans for a "land swap" to the freeholders, detailing the size and location of land to be given to the county in exchange for the estimated 35 acres to be used for the new high school.

Officials have discussed the possibility of the township giving the county 70 acres, or double the amount to be taken for the school.

David B. Crabiel, director of the freeholders, said Monday that his board had yet to discuss the land swap and that it would await further details to be provided by Monroe’s governing body before making a decision. He said, however, that he has talked about the concept with Pucci and Homoki.

"I said that I’d be receptive to considering it," Crabiel said, noting, however, that it was his idea to arrange for a swap in which the county gets 2 acres for every acre used for the high school. He said he has also told Monroe officials that he would prefer that the land given to the county in the swap be contiguous to Thompson Park "or have some relationship to the park."

The park is the largest in Middlesex County, and includes a 30-acre lake, a petting zoo, a performance gazebo, athletic fields for baseball, softball and soccer, tennis courts, hiking and bicycle paths, and picnic areas.

Noting that the park is one of 19 in Middlesex County and contains nearly 700 acres, Crabiel said he believes that swapping a small percentage of the land to help a local community solve a problem is something county officials should consider.

"With a park this size, it’s hard to say you can’t give up 35 acres and take 35 or 70 acres someplace else," he said. "It’s not going to the private sector. This is for a school improvement that appears to me is needed in Monroe. And we try to cooperate with a local town if something is needed."

Though the majority of individuals present at the board meeting supported the proposal, a few residents dissented.

Nancy Prohaska, a resident of Perrineville Road, said she is upset about the idea that there will be a high school directly across from her home.

"The traffic is bad as it is," she said. "I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like with school buses and kids."

Ferrie said a thorough traffic study would be conducted, and he urged Prohaska and her neighbors to meet with the board. He said he is open to addressing the public’s concerns, but reiterated his support for the referendum.

"I’m not going to put a proposal out here before you that I didn’t believe met the needs of the children," Ferrie said.

If approved, officials said, the new high school would be up and running by 2008.