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End of an era

Condemned_web

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.”

Revenue loss dooms post office

Postal_web

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Say goodbye to Kearny’s secondary post office.

The U.S. Postal Service has issued a “final determination” notice to permanently shut what is known as the West Hudson Station at 255 Kearny Ave., which has operated since April 1961.

USPS spokesman George Flood said the decision was made this month by the Postal Service’s Northern N.J. District after consultation with staff and community input, including a public posting soliciting comments from Jan. 29 to March 2.

There is a 30-day period for the public to file appeals of the decision but, based on an apparent lack of interest to date, the expectation is that the closure will stick.

Only two people showed up at a community meeting to talk about the proposed closure convened by the Postal Service on June 3, 2014, according to Flood.

Flood said that members of the public were invited to send letters on the subject to the postal service during on open comment period between April 23 and June 24, 2014, but the feedback did nothing to alter the course adopted for closure.

“Some [of the responders] said they didn’t want to travel the 1.3 miles to the main post office in Kearny [on Midland Ave.],” Flood said.

An “emergency suspension” of service at the Kearny Ave. station took effect Aug. 1, 2013, after plumbing leaks from an apartment above the storefront postal office – leased from a private owner – made the place unfit for occupancy and postal staff and postal boxes were relocated to the main post office.

Ironically, the postal service had just renewed its lease of the space.

It appears that no attempt has been made to have the office cleaned. Flood said questions about conditions there should be directed to the landlord. He said the postal service is in talks with the owner to renegotiate the 5-year lease.

Meanwhile, Flood said, there has been a “decline of business [at the West Hudson Station] over the last several years. In the last five years, revenue has declined by 39% and there are numerous outlets in close proximity for Kearny customers to conduct their postal business, including the Main Post Office.”

The closure decision, Flood said, “pretty much mirrors our national strategy of adjusting our infrastructure to match changes in market place. The first-class retail mail market for us is going in a different direction so we’re responding to those changes. On the positive side, we’ve noticed a significant jump in package volume from our business customers.

“Our customers’ habits have made it clear that they are looking for different ways to access postal products and services. Today, more than 35% of the Postal Service’s retail revenue comes from expanded access locations such as grocery stores, drug stores, office supply stores, retail chains, self-service kiosks, ATMs and our usps.com website, which is accessible 24/7.

“It is important to bear in mind that the Kearny Postmaster Ed Wynne has not received complaints about the relocation of the West Hudson Station to the Main Post Office …”

Appeals of the closure may be sent to the Postal Regulatory Commission, 901 New York Ave. NW, Suite 200, Washington, D.C. 20268-0001.

On another Kearny postal front, meanwhile, Flood had good news about the N.J. Logistics & Distribution Center, 1200 Harrison Ave., which the Postal Service had eyed for possible consolidation as part of an overall budget cutting move.

“We’re not moving forward with that issue in Kearny,” he said.

That facility has 565 employees and is in the process of a name change to the U.S.P.S. Greater Newark New Jersey Processing & Distribution Center, Flood said.

Municipal budget still a puzzle

Budget_web

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent

KEARNY – 

Will Kearny receive state transitional aid? What will be the outcome of contract negotiations with the municipal nonuniformed employees union?

Will the town succeed in persuading the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to pay for 12 new firefighters?

These and other financial considerations will play out during the balance of the year as the town’s governing body ponders how to pare down the proposed municipal budget of about $76 million introduced last Monday.

As the budget, up from $74.8 million last year, now stands – it will get a public hearing April 21 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers – overall spending is up from last year by 2.4% but the impact on the local levy – even with $2,125,000 million in transitional aid included – is a 6% increase, according to Town CFO Shuaib Firozvi.

If those numbers stick, Firozvi said, the owner of a house with an “average” assessment of $95,000 could expect to pay an additional $228 in taxes on his/her property. And that’s without any school and county tax hikes, if any.

But Mayor Alberto Santos has asked Firozvi and town auditor Steven Wielkotz to come up with recommendations for cuts.

“The number we want to be around is not higher than a 2% tax increase,” the mayor said. “If this budget lacks material amendments [that fails to reduce the tax impact], I’m not voting on it.”

That task, however, will be complicated, Firozvi said, because the town does not expect to know if it will be getting transitional aid by that point. And, he noted, “most budget line items are either flat or lower than last year.”

Expenses are up in such areas as employee health benefits, by $160,000; and contractual service fees to Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, by $158,000, he said.

And the amount of surplus is being trimmed, from $2.4 million last year, to $1.2 million for 2015, he added.

On the plus side of the ledger, Firozvi said the town is projecting a decrease of $800,000 in debt service payments; however, as Santos later pointed out, that savings will be partly canceled by the town bonding to finance the new Dukes St. pump station.

The town is projecting an additional $200,000 in revenues to the water utility, largely the result of increased user rates, but that will be partly undercut by an approximately $40,000 obligation to United Water as interim water utility operator. (Theodore Ferraioli, the $99,000-a-year assistant water superintendent, has delayed his previously announced March 1 resignation to April 1, according to Santos.)

The town has negotiated PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) agreements with the owners of Kearny Point, an industrial park in South Kearny, for one warehouse building the owners expect to lease to multiple tenants; and with builder Ed Russo for a multifamily residential complex at Bergen and Schuyler Aves.

Santos said that Russo expects to start renting the first two of six buildings now under construction by the end of the spring, “so we should get a half-year PILOT for that,” and that “at least a portion of the South Kearny building will be on line by the end of the year and the owner expects to lease space to one or two tenants so we should be seeing some revenue from that.”

Meanwhile, Kearny is waiting to hear how much – if any – transitional aid Trenton is willing to dispense this year. Per state protocol, Kearny is required to ask for 15% less than the amount it got last year.

One expense that remains a question mark is how much the town will end up paying the more than 80 civilian employees represented by Civil Service Council 11, whose contract with the town expired Dec. 31, 2014. Both sides are in talks on a new labor agreement.

Also up in the air is whether the town will commit to hiring any additional firefighters. Last Monday, the Town Council authorized making application to Homeland Security for a grant to pay salaries and benefits for 12 additional firefighters for two years. If the town fails to get the grant – as it has in two previous efforts – it’s unclear whether it will lay out any local funds to beef up the short-staffed Fire Department, which will be down another member with the July 1 retirement of 28-year veteran Capt. Gary Dye, who is due to receive nearly $70,000 in terminal leave pay and unused vacation benefits.

Jurors find Jail official guilty of wiretapping

Following a federal jury trial in Newark, the deputy director of the Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny has been found guilty of illegally wiretapping his coworkers, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The trial of Kirk Eady before Judge Jose L. Linares in U.S. District Court lasted four days. The jury deliberated only three hours before returning the guilty verdict March 13, Fishman’s office reported. Eady, 46, of East Brunswick, now faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to authorities, on “more than 10 occasions” from March 8 to July 8, 2012, Eady “used the services of a website. . .to intercept the telephone calls of other Hudson County Correctional Facility employees and another individual who were critical of his work performance.”

Eady also recorded private phone conversations without the knowledge of those who were being monitored, authorities said.

Fishman credited special agents of the FBI with the investigation leading to the guilty verdict. Eady’s sentencing is scheduled for July 8.

 – Karen Zautyk 

Potholes will be fixed soon, mayor vows

Now that it’s spring, Mayor Joseph Bianchi is asking local property owners to think ahead about sprucing up the community as the weather turns warmer.

“North Arlington is a beautiful community with well-maintained homes on our residential streets. The harsh winter has left properties which need to be cleaned up, minor damages repaired and lawns and yards needing attention,” Bianchi said.

“If everyone attends to their properties, the community will once again be pretty and attractive to us, our neighbors and those who visit,” the mayor added.

Bianchi asked residents to keep trash receptacles in rear yards and to avoid placing them curbside for collection before the appointed time.

Meanwhile, the mayor said the borough’s Public Works Department is preparing to fix the many potholes on local streets with newly purchased repair equipment.

Looking ahead to next winter, Bianchi said he plans an extensive review of all municipal codes relating to snow, with proper clearing of sidewalks and hydrants and making the community safe during bad weather a big priority.

“Dealing with snow and ice on roadways is a difficult and complex challenge,” Bianchi said. “Our DPW does an excellent job under very difficult circumstances. However, we could always do better. If local ordinances need to be changed in connection with parking, emergency roads and other matters in order to enable our staff to do better dealing with snow, I will be asking the Borough Council to consider that.”

around town

Belleville 

Belleville Public Library, 221 Washington Ave., is holding registration, for a Teddy Bear Tea Party set for Saturday, May 9, at 2 p.m. The library will host a puppet show on Saturday, March 28, at 3 p.m.

For more information, call the library at 973-450-3434.

Harrison 

Holy Cross Church sponsors a trip to Las Vegas, April 29 to May 5. The group departs from Newark Airport Wednesday, April 29, at 7:15 a.m., for a non-stop flight via United Airlines and returns Thursday, May 5, at 6:15 a.m. The group will stay at Harrah’s Hotel and Casino. The $771 per-person cost covers air, hotel and taxes. A $250 per-person deposit is required to guarantee reservations. Call Gina at European Travel, 973-484- 4023, or Joan at 973-481-2434.

East Newark 

West Hudson Brave Women Fighting Breast Cancer meets the last Friday of every month, 7 to 9 p.m., at the East Newark Senior Center, 37 President St. For more information, call Emma at 201-998-6828, Rosa at 201-246-7750, Fatima at 973-485-4236 or email emidura2@ yahoo.com.

Kearny 

See a screening of “The Theory of Everything” (PG- 13 / 123 minutes) at Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., at 1 p.m. on Friday, March 27. Eddie Redmayne took home the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of famous physicist Stephen Hawking. For more information on any of the library’s programs, call the library at 201-998-2666 or visit www.kearnylibrary.org.

West Hudson Christian Center, 557 Kearny Ave., hosts a Rock n’ Roll Easter Egg Hunt, open to ages 2 to 10, March 28, at 1 p.m. For more information, call 201- 997-7762.

Lyndhurst 

The Humane Society of Bergen County, 221-223 Stuyvesant Ave., has a supply of dog food, both canned and dry, available to anyone due to unemployment, disability or any other financial difficulty who cannot afford to feed their dog. Just stop by or call 201-896-9300 for more information. Hours: Monday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lyndhurst Garden Club will hear township resident Vincent Bello talk about growing citrus trees on Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m., at the Senior Citizens building on Cleveland Ave. Afterwards, there will be raffles and a social period with refreshments.

A benefit dinner for Jennie Gossweiler-Renna, now in her fifth year with ovarian cancer, will be held March 28, 5 to 9 p.m., at the Amvets post hall, 323 New York Ave. The $45 admission includes dinner, dancing and support for a wonderful person. For tickets, more information, or to make a donation, call Melissa Alfano at 201-736- 1584 or visit www.jenniebenefit.myevent.com.

Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst sponsors a children’s Tricky Tray for pre-k to grade 5 Saturday, March 28, at the Senior Citizens building on Cleveland Ave. Admission is $5. Doors open at noon and the raffle begins at 1 p.m. Lunch items will be sold. No outside food is permitted. For tickets or more information, call Janet at 201-935-1208.

Lyndhurst Health Department announces:

  • The department’s bi-annual Women’s Health Clinic is set for Wednesday, April 1, at 9 a.m. This free event, made possible through a partnership with Clara Maass Medical Center, includes education on breast self-examination, a PAP test and a pelvic exam. The clinic is open to all female Lyndhurst residents age 18 and over.
  • A free eye screening, including a check for glaucoma, is offered for all Lyndhurst residents age 18 and over Wednesday, April 15, at 1 p.m.

For an appointment for these programs, call 201- 804-2500.

Mary Lou Mullins monthly bus trip to Atlantic City to Resorts Casino is set for Sunday, March 29. Cost is $30. Cash return is $30. For reservations and more information, call Mary Lou at 201-939-2186.

Kingsland Lyndhurst AARP Chapter 4866 sponsors its annual entertainment night, Tricky Tray and raffles Thursday, April 16. Doors open at 6 p.m. The show features music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. No alcohol is permitted. Admission is $20. For tickets and more information, call Jo Oleske at 201-438-2118 or Kay Roberts at 201-438-3611.

Lyndhurst Public Library, 355 Valley Brook Ave., announces:

  • An exhibit by local artist Carol Joy Vérité is on display through April 6.
  • “We’re Talking Baseball,” a slide and lecture program on the golden age of New York baseball, presented by Dr. James P. Kane, is set for Wednesday, April 1, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Learn about the N.Y. Giants, the ‘61 Yankees and more. Space is limited and registration is necessary. Call the library at 201-804- 2478, ext. 7, or email romeo@ lyndhurst.bccls.org.

Lyndhurst Boy Scout Troop 86 has launched its new co-ed Venture Crew for all boys and girls, ages 14-20. The Crew is youth-led, but relies on knowledgeable, experienced and trained adult men and women volunteers for sound guidance and advice. Meetings are held at 8 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the United Presbyterian Church of Lyndhurst, 511 Ridge Road (entrance off Page Ave.), across from St. Michael’s Church. Outside activities include horseback riding, camping, BBQs, and many more fun activities. Interested youth and parents are invited to call Crew President Joe Shinnick at 201 275-2884 or email him at jmusic171@aol.com. For more information, visit the website: beascout.scouting.org.

The N.J. Meadowlands Commission holds its First- Sunday-of-the-Month nature walk, with the Bergen County Audubon Society, Sunday, April 5, 10 a.m. to noon. This free guided nature walk will take place in DeKorte Park, starting outside the Meadowlands Environment Center. Participants are asked to sign a standard liability release that is good for NJMC/BCAS events throughout the year. To register, email Don Torino of the BCAS at greatauk4@gmail.com or call him at 201- 230-4983.

North Arlington

North Arlington Seniors, Inc. (Tuesday Club) sponsors a trip to Sands Casino in Pennsylvania April 9. The group leaves from Borough Hall at 9 a.m. Non-members are welcome. Call Rose Florio at 201-991-2423.

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, has passes available for the Museum of the City of New York. Each pass allows two adults and four children access to this museum. Requirements to borrow: $50 cash deposit and an adult library card in good standing. http://www.mcny.org.

The library also offers a pass to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. This pass allows six people admission to the museum. Requirements to borrow: $50 cash deposit and an adult library card in good standing. http://www.intrepidmuseum.org.

To check availability, visit or call the library at 201-955- 5640.

The North Arlington Volunteer Emergency Squad hosts its annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday April 4, at North Arlington Middle School at noon.

The event includes games, prizes, and great photo opportunities with the Easter Bunny, so don’t forget your cameras!

If it rains, the event will be held in the gym.

Nutley 

The Women’s Initiative of Nutley presents the Art Exhibit of Women’s History Month at the Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, throughout March and April.

The exhibit spotlights the oil, watercolor, pastel, pencil and photography of local artists Susan Farr, Jackie Hanlon, Margot Parker, Teresa Ruffo, Edith Sirmons and Dianne Louise Wilson. All have won awards in local, regional and national competitions.

Commissioner Steven Rogers and the Department of Public Affairs are sponsoring a Food Allergy Support Group for Nutley parents with food-allergic children Tuesday, March 31, at 7:30 p.m., at the department offices, 149 Chestnut St. A township public health nurse, a school nurse and a parent advocate are the group’s co- facilitators. Call 973-284-4976 for more information.

Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, announces:

  • Preschool Story Time, open to ages 3 to 5, takes place Wednesdays, April 1, 8 and 29, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Participants must be Nutley residents. Registration is required.
  • Wednesday Afternoon Knitters meets weekly at 1 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their own supplies. • Manga/Anime Club meets Thursday, April 2, at 3:15 p.m.
  • Monday Night Book Club discusses “A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan Monday, April 6, at 7 p.m. Copies of the book and a discussion guide are available at the library.
  • Babygarten, open to ages 23 months and under, is set for Tuesdays, April 7 and 28, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Registration is required. The program is open only to Nutley residents.

For more information or to register for programs, call the library at 973-667-0405.

Car thieves collared in NA after multi-town chase

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent

NORTH ARLINGTON –

Omar Hill

Omar Hill

Two Passaic men driving two stolen cars were collared in North Arlington early on March 12 after they led police from several surrounding communities on a wild chase that included a foot pursuit through Holy Cross Cemetery.

North Arlington Police Capt. James Hearn gave this account of the episode:

At 3:01 a.m., a borough patrol officer traveling on Hendel Ave. near Ridge Road observed a dark-colored Mercury make a sharp turn off Ridge on to Hendel, followed by a silver Toyota, both ignoring a stop sign. Read more »

March 24 Harrison school board meeting time changed

A special Board of Education meeting to unveil plans for a new Harrison school will take place at 6:30 p.m., March 24 at the board offices, 501 Hamilton St. Officials originally said the meeting would take place at a different time. Please note the the new meeting time.

Former official guilty

leadbeater_web

By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

Last Monday, March 9, at his second day on trial in Camden Federal Court for his alleged participation in a $13 million mortgage fraud scheme that, according to the government, used fake documents and “straw buyers” to make illegal profits on overbuilt condos at the Jersey Shore, former Kearny lawmaker/school trustee John Leadbeater, 58, pled guilty to a single count of wire fraud.

In return for his plea, the government dropped a second charge of money laundering for which he had been indicted (along with wire fraud) nearly two years ago.

Leadbeater, a former Kearny Board of Education vice president and a former member of the Kearny Town Council who made an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2009, will be sentenced June 26 by U.S. District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle in Camden.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, as a first offender, Leadbeater could face a minimum of 46 to 57 months to a maximum of 30 years in prison, depending on other factors, plus a fine of up to $1 million. He will also be expected to make restitution for any losses to the lenders.

His Jersey City defense attorneys, Thomas Cammarata and Jeffrey Garrigan, issued a statement last week which said that their client entered his plea “after lengthy negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

In early October 2014, federal prosecutors had sought – and were granted – a three-month extension of the original Dec. 1, 2014 trial date to prepare their case against Leadbeater on the grounds that it was a “complex case,” because it required more intensive judicial management … involving multiple parties … geographically diverse witnesses … numerous expert witnesses, complex subject matter” and other factors.

In granting the government’s request for more time, Judge Simandle noted that the case involved allegations of wrongdoing involving a “voluminous” case file covering “a period of several years.”

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Matthew Reilly declined to say how many witnesses the government had prepared to call or how many days the trial had been expected to last.

Asked whether Leadbeater could hold public office at some future date, Reilly said he would have to research that question.

Leadbeaters’ defense team, in their statement, sought to narrow the extent of his participation in the conspiracy.

They said their client “pled guilty to conspiracy in that he advanced deposits for buyers in certain transactions involving homes in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest … without disclosing this fact on the closing statements sent to the lenders for the buyers.” But, they added that, “His admission of guilt did not include any involvement in activities of others regarding false loan applications. He regrets his bad judgment and is anxious to put this matter behind him.”

Cammarata said that his client received a “finder’s fee” for each property for which he – not the buyers — advanced deposits and that those fees were recorded in the mortgage closing documents. While Leadbeater is not licensed as a real estate agent, Cammarata said that has no relevancy to the crime to which he has admitted guilt.

According to the plea agreement, Leadbeater was involved in seven property transactions in Wildwood and two in Wildwood Crest for which he wired loan amounts from a variety of brokers totaling $4,711,556.86 between July 24, 2007, and March 27, 2008.

However, Cammarata noted that the total loss to the lenders has been reduced to the extent that the properties involved have been resold, accounting for a reduction in the overall loss to between $1 million and $2.5 million, which will be taken into consideration by the court at sentencing.

Target parking lot for new school

By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON – 

If no significant environmental issues arise, the municipal parking lot across the street from Washington Middle School will become the site for a new school for kindergarten and pre-K students in Harrison to help relieve overcrowding at Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools.

And the $33 million project will cost taxpayers not one dime to build, school officials insist, because the Board of Education owns the property and because the state has committed to picking up the entire tab.

So reported James Doran, the district’s director of personnel, and Michael Pichowicz, the board attorney, in an interview with The Observer at the BOE office last Thursday.

Doran said the BOE – which has yet to vote on designating the lot as the place where the new facility will rise – nonetheless want to forewarn residents now because during the Easter holiday period – between April 6 and 16 – the parking lot at Washington St. and Harrison Ave. will be closed.

That’s when the N.J. Schools Development Authority has directed the Morristownbased Louis Berger Group to drill holes in the lot, take soil samples and analyze them to see if a school building can be safely supported there, Doran said.

Residents who rely on the lot for overnight parking will have more access to street spaces in the neighborhood during that time because the town will be suspending street cleaning on Washington St. and on Harrison Ave., between Fifth and Sixth Sts., so residents with the required stickers will be able to park during the night on those blocks, Doran said. Looking ahead, Doran said there has been “preliminary discussion” with the BOE about replacing the lot, once the SDA officially greenlights the school project.

“The goal is that before any construction starts, we would have an engineering firm look at relocating the underutilized Shields Park (which is next to Washington School) to an area near Harrison High School and extending the resident parking lot at Patterson St. and Harrison Ave. to the area now occupied by the park,” Doran said.

That reconfiguration would, he said, “double the size” of the existing Patterson St. parking area while also accommodating school staff from Washington School and the new school.

Meanwhile, plans for the new school – (no name has been designated for it yet) – will be unveiled publicly for the first time at a special BOE meeting set for 6:30 p.m. March 24 at the board offices, 501 Hamilton St. [Please note time change to 6:30 p.m.]

“This has been three years in the making,” said Doran, who talked up the idea during his previous service as the district’s superintendent of schools, as a strategy to ease the pressure of growing enrollment, particularly in pre-K to grade 5.

“As of 2008-2009, we were already at capacity in our elementary schools,” Doran said. Since then, enrollment district-wide jumped from 1,866 to 2,096 currently. Lincoln School, which houses kindergarten through grade 3 with the aid of trailers, climbed from 557 to 651 and Hamilton, which has grades 4 and 5, went from 262 to 302, district records show.

In prior years, the SDA had proposed expanding Washington School’s population – which handles grades 6, 7 and 8 – by adding grade 5 which, according to Doran, would have required placement of trailers along the Hamilton St. side of the school. It never happened.

Now the plan is to construct a new two-story school on the roughly one-acre parking lot site to accommodate nine kindergarten classrooms, nine first-grade classrooms and two pre-K special education classrooms. The facility would have an elevator, a combination cafeteria/ auditorium and gym. There would also be some type of outdoor play space. The entrance would be from Washington St. The existing vehicular traffic pattern would remain.

SDA regulations mandated the district to conduct an inventory of potential school sites, with priority given to district-owned property first, then municipal-owned. Pichowicz said the district identified 38 parcels for consideration and “it came down to Roosevelt Park outside the town library and the parking lot.”

The district had acquired the parking lot site some years ago with the idea of putting a new school there at some point, he said.

The new school would accommodate a capacity of 420 students and could be ready for occupancy by September 2018, Doran said. The Berger firm will design and build it, he added.

Of the 360 Harrison youngsters currently in pre-K programs in outside facilities, all but the 15 currently housed at the town Community Center would stay where they are but the 15 would shift to the new school, Doran said.

As part of the district’s grade realignment, both Lincoln and Hamilton would handle grades 2 through 5, he said.

With the reconfiguration of space, Doran said, “We could expand our cafeterias at Lincoln and Hamilton, add a computer lab and music room at Lincoln, add an instrumental music room at Hamilton and possibly make room for additional class sections, where needed.”