End of an era

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent

LYNDHURST –

A piece of Lyndhurst history is destined for the scrap heap as a casualty of economic pressures.

This time – without having to go to the voters – the township and Board of Education are working in concert to replace the 126-year-old Lincoln Elementary School with a new building to rise on Matera Field.

But residents can still expect to see a referendum toward the end of 2015 when they’ll be asked to approve spending of up to $10 million for improvements to other schools: possibly “specialty” facilities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and language arts, and adding vocational training classes at the high school.

Last November, the township Board of Commissioners set the stage for taking the school property at Valley Brook Ave. and Ridge Road after having designated it an “area in need of redevelopment,” and, last Tuesday, the commissioners and Board of Education executed the coup de gras.

At a special joint meeting held at the Municipal Building, the members of each board voted unanimously to authorize a professional services contract – not subject to bidding laws – with three professional firms to draw up “preliminary design and logistics work [for] replacement of Lincoln School” for a total of $130,000 in fees.

The firms which, officials said, will “work as a team,” in consultation with school and municipal officials, to assemble a conceptual plan during the next three months. Once there is agreement on the details, then the school board will solicit bids for construction at the 5.8-acre Matera Field site, between Marin and Page Aves.

Robert Benecke, the township’s financial consultant, said: “The township of Lyndhurst will buy the [Lincoln School] property for redevelopment purposes and, in turn, the Board of Education will agree to have the new school built.”

As provided in the township’s 2014 master plan, “The proceeds from the sale of the Lincoln School property, together with proceeds from the sale of any or all related properties in the town center redevelopment area could be used to help construct the [new] school.”

Under this arrangement, bonds will be issued to provide up-front financing for the new construction and that debt is expected to replace the existing principal and interest the township still owes on the EnCap development fiasco which, officials hope, will be paid off by then.

The township has designated the properties between Stuyvesant Ave. to Ridge Road along the railroad tracks, and from Freeman St. to Valley Brook Ave. on Ridge, and Matera Field as parts of its redevelopment area.

Richard DiLascio, the attorney for both the BOE and the township, said that under state redevelopment law, because both the Lincoln property and Matera Field are connected to the redevelopment area, the BOE has no obligation to seek voter approval to abandon Lincoln and build anew because the funding is already accounted for under the pending sale of the Lincoln property.

DiLascio said he expected the entire process to take three years with the first classes entering the building by September 2018. Because plans, at this point, are unclear about its size and even which three grades it will accommodate, DiLascio said it’s impossible to predict how much will be needed to build the new school.

Although the master plan talks about a “middle school housing grades 6, 7 and 8,” DiLascio said that thought is being given to a possible alternate junior high school scenario of grades 7, 8 and 9. After the school is built, “then the superintendent will reconfigure the district.”

“The primary goal here,” DiLascio said, “is to eliminate as many trips as possible for parents with kids in different schools.”

In any case, DiLascio said, officials are looking at a population of about 160 students spread over eight classrooms for each of the three grades, with a total capacity of 650 to allow for “expanded enrollment over the next 20 years.”

Also envisioned for the new school are a 1,000-seat auditorium that would also be accessible to the community, a gym and a culinary arts program, according to DiLascio.

The three firms hired to develop plans for the new school and their fees are:

• CP Engineers of Sparta,  who will evaluate existing schools’ needs and prepare an update of the district’s long-range facilities plan, for $60,000.

• Morris and Ritchie Associates of Baltimore, Md., who will serve as the “programming and site specialist” for the new school and will be the liaison to the public for all information, for $20,000.

• Hord Coplan Macht, also  of Baltimore, Md., who will be the “design specialist for the replacement of the Lincoln School,” for $50,000.

BOE President Christopher Musto said he was “excited, both as a board member and parent, that we’re going to replace an old building with a state of the art school.”

The Observer Staff