MEMS welcomes back 1,400 students, staff


Staff Writer

MANALAPAN – What a relief.

Two weeks after beginning their school year divided among six elemen-tary schools, the 1,400 seventh- and eighth-graders who attend the Manalapan-Englishtown Middle School (MEMS), Millhurst Road, were back in their building for a full day of classes on Sept. 25.

Meeting on Sept. 19 at the Wemrock Brook School, members of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District Board of Education announced that MEMS was on schedule for a Sept. 25 opening with a full-day session.

A $17 million construction project at MEMS was not completed in time for children to report to the school on Sept. 11 as planned. Instead, beginning on Sept. 12 and continuing through Sept. 22, the students were divided by their MEMS community and assigned to attend one of the district’s six elementary schools and to receive educational instruction during half-day sessions.

A group of about 50 parents who attended the Sept. 19 board meeting applauded when district Business Administrator Joseph Passiment made the announcement that “students will be in their classrooms [at MEMS] on Sept. 25.”

Passiment said all systems at the school were being checked last week and that during test runs on Sept. 19 “everything worked flawlessly.” He said work at the school would continue through last week in order to make sure the building was in perfect shape for the students’ arrival.

On Sept. 21, Passiment told the News Transcript that all final inspections had been successfully completed that day. He said municipal officials were preparing a temporary certificate of occupancy that is needed in order for staff and students to be permitted to enter the school.

Passiment said when students returned to MEMS on Sept. 25 they would be using the existing school and the A and B wings of the new addition. The C wing of the addition, which contains a fitness center, had not been completed as of Sept. 19, according to Passiment.

The district found itself in what board President Anthony Manisero called a “crisis” when numerous construction items failed their municipal inspections in the week before the school was scheduled to open on Sept. 11 and a temporary certificate of occupancy could not be issued.

Manalapan construction official Richard Hogan previously reported that the failed inspections, which he said totaled more than 100 items, were in all disciplines – electrical, plumbing, fire and building.

The inspection process was not mentioned at the Sept. 19 meeting and no one discussed how hundreds of items that may have passed interim inspections during the construction at MEMS failed a final inspection just before the school was scheduled to open.

The end result of the construction at MEMS will include the addition of 73,000 square feet to the existing middle school and 30 new classrooms. There will be a new science room, two new computer labs and the addition of a new gymnasium, health center and nurse’s office, as well as renovated art rooms and a music instruction room.

The general contractor on the project is Ernest Bock and Sons Inc., of Phila-delphia.

Passiment commended the employees of the Manalapan construction department who went to MEMS as soon as they were called last week to inspect the work as it was being completed. Also last week, the district’s cafeteria staff went to the school and cleaned the kitchen facilities so they would be up and running when pupils reported to school.

“The township officials and the contractor have bent over backward to get this done,” Passiment said.

Mayor Drew Shapiro, who attended the Sept. 19 board meeting, said, “Our inspectors went over and above their jobs to make sure this was done. They stayed at the school until 1 and 2 a.m. Cooper-ation [between the township and the school district] was what got this to completion.”

An initial statement from the board indicated that the MEMS pupils could be in the six elementary schools for three to four weeks. The reality turned out to be nine days, all of which will count toward the required 180 days of instruction.

As to what caused the construction snafu to arise in the first place, Manisero said, “We’ll lay blame down the road.”

In response to a question from a parent who asked what, if any, extraordinary costs were incurred in the all-out effort to get MEMS ready for students as quickly as possible, Manisero said, “It is too early to say where things went wrong. If [elected officials] want to look at that there will be a time for that.”

In the wake of the MEMS construction issue, the school board has formed a construction subcommittee chaired by board member Joseph DePasquale. The district has an ongoing construction project at the Clark Mills School, Gordons Corner Road, where an early childhood learning center is being built. Plans previously announced by the board indicated that all of the district’s kindergarten pupils will attend that facility once it opens.

Passiment said the general contractor for the early childhood learning center is Patock Construction, of Tinton Falls. That work is in its early phases and the board is expected to discuss what Passi-ment called “milestone dates” in the pro-ject at an upcoming meeting.

The district is also scheduled to undertake window replacement, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and roofing projects at various schools, he said.

In response to questions from parents at the Sept. 19 board meeting, MEMS Principal Robert Williams said once the building opened the school year would be treated as if it had just started. He said pupils would be welcomed to the building and given all instructions as if it was Sept. 11 and not two weeks later.

“We know the biggest thing they are worried about is the lockers and the combinations,” Williams said to the chuckles of the parents, who nodded their agreement with his assessment of their children’s No. 1 middle school concern.