Pinelands Regional School District Solicits Bids for Temporary Classroom Units

Renovation Project Manager Resigns
Feb 21, 2018

There could very well be classroom trailers in the future of Pinelands Regional School District. At its Feb. 14 meeting, the board of education authorized Business Administrator Steven Brennan to advertise for bids for the revised scope of work for Phase II of the district’s $53.6 million package of renovation projects at both its junior high and high school buildings that was approved by voters in January 2017. That “revised scope” includes temporary classroom units (TCU), more commonly referred to as trailers.

It could be an indication that the board and the district administration are considering a recommendation by architect Brooks Garrison of Garrison Architects – and by now-former construction manager Chuck Romanoli of New Roads Construction – to close the high school building for the entirety of the 2018-19 school year because working on the building while students were attending was a “giant liability.” The construction professionals had proposed the district obtain a $750,000 prefabricated building with 10 classrooms to help alleviate crowding if high school students had to share the junior high building with its regular occupants.

Ten classrooms, though, wouldn’t be nearly enough to accommodate all of the students if the high school were to be closed. Some sort of split-session schedule would seemingly be necessary, an idea that has many parents angry and threatening to pull their teenagers out of the district.

The issue is complicated by the fact that the split-session schedule district students and staff had to endure last autumn – when the high school was closed because of concerns over asbestos and other safety issues – can’t be employed for an entire school year. It had been approved by the state because it was supposed to last only for a month or so. Acting Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Stevenson has previously stated it didn’t allow for enough classroom time under state regulations to be used on a long-term basis.

Parents became – if possible – even more concerned when rumors spread that a yearlong split-sessions plan would have school starting at 6:30 in the morning, a possibility that was never formally denied by the school board or Stevenson.

So, what is the current plan for the district? The board and administration must have one if the district is going out to bid.

“In fact we do have a plan,” said Stevenson, adding, “We can’t discuss it in public.”

State approvals and other permits must be obtained before a final plan can become reality, said Stevenson. But, she added, “some items need to get out to bid.”

Needless to say, parents are wary of any sort of split-session arrangement.

One resident from Tuckerton said the students’ education would suffer, saying “half days aren’t as good as full days. There’s no way!”

“I don’t think there’s anyone sitting here that really wants to see our children on split sessions,” said Board of Education President Susan M. Ernst.

Ernst said the board and administration are looking at a plan but realize there must be “fall back” positions as well. “All the pieces have to be in place.”

“This administration is not going to get caught off-guard like last year,” said Stevenson. “Split sessions are not the direction we want to head to. We will do everything in our power to get a full day. When I know, you will know.”

The 2018-19 school year was far from the only item discussed or acted upon at yet another lengthy school board meeting at Pinelands.

The board accepted the resignation of New Road Construction as the rehabilitation project’s construction manager.

Ernst didn’t respond to a question asking how she would characterize the resignation – that is, did New Road quit, or was New Road pushed out by the district? But critics of the roofing debacle at the high school this past fall, which unleashed fears of asbestos and other health concerns and resulted in the high school shutting down from early October until Jan. 16, might be happy to see New Road hit the road.

Members of the board pressed the administration and board attorney to push New Jersey for a response to the district’s months-long request that the state conduct an investigation into the roofing fiasco and its associated ills. Ernst had previously said the state was the way to go, considering that the board itself could end up being investigated, and she wanted to avoid any charges of a conflict of interest that could arise if an investigation by a private firm was conducted.

“We need to get started,” said Jeffrey Boniky, who represents Little Egg Harbor Township on the board. “We need to know what took place, the risk to our children, the risk to our staff. We need closure. It was of great concern two months ago. And nothing has happened.”

A motion to approve coaching appointments for the fall athletic season was tabled after one audience member, Jamey Carnes, questioned the appropriateness of one 7/8 coach. Carnes said he didn’t want the coach fired from teaching, but just not rehired as a coach because of an alleged incident in which the coach put a player with a broken foot back into a game.

Finally, Ernst reported that the first round of interviews with candidates for the open position of superintendent of schools had been completed. A second round is scheduled for a few evenings in the coming week.

— Rick Mellerup

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