School land deal moving forward

Township officials may meet before the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders to discuss the proposed land swap for new school.

By: Rebecca Tokarz
   MONROE — Township officials could appear before the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders sometime in February to discuss a proposed land swap to obtain 35 acres in Thompson Park for a new high school, according to school board President Joseph Homoki.
   The presentation to the freeholders is the first step toward swapping the 35 acres for another piece of dedicated open space of equal or greater size elsewhere in the township.
   Additional approvals also will be needed from the state’s Green Acres Program and the State House Commission, which meets quarterly.
   The township is working with the school district to acquire the land and is willing to give the county and the Green Acres program a 77-acre tract near the intersection of Route 522 and Perrineville Road in exchange for the high school property. The township is in the process of acquiring the land from Renaissance Properties, the owners of the land.
   Officials had said the process for approvals could take between six and nine months.
   While Mr. Homoki said he’s not making any guarantees, he’s hoping to have the lengthy process completed by midyear.
   "A top priority is the required preparation and presentations on different levels. We hope that if everything goes well, the process could be completed by June," he said during a phone interview last week.
   No official date has been set for the freeholder meeting, county officials said. The freeholders are expected to adopt the 2004 meeting schedule today (Friday).
   The school district needs the land to build a new high school near the intersection of School House and Perrineville roads, adjacent to the current high school. The proposed site for the school is on the 35-acre tract of the county-owned Thompson Park.
   Voters approved the $82.9 million plan — $67.94 million of which will be raised through taxpayer dollars — on Dec. 9.
   The new high school calls for the construction of a 365,000-square-foot school. The school will house 1,800 students, and would be constructed to accommodate additions, which, if built, would bring the building’s total capacity to 2,700, school officials said.
   The building could be occupied by fall 2008 if all the approvals are obtained.