By Ron Leir
After some three years of sitting idle, the former tire factory and, more recently, private school, at 172- 174 Midland Ave. previously acquired by the Kearny Board of Education as a future BOE headquarters is finally showing signs of life.
Last week, school maintenance staff secured the building’s exterior with a fence and green tarpaulin, positioned a Dumpster on the Elm St. side and began limited interior demolition work.
Workers busied themselves with ripping out sections of drywalls, ceiling tiles, hallway lights, old electrical wiring and the like to prep the space for Mark Construction, the Montville contractor the BOE hired in August 2010 for about $1.6 million to reshape the building to its current needs.
The BOE will get 40% of the job reimbursed through the state Department of Education’s School Development Authority.
Unfortunately, since the job has been delayed for more than three years to complete state-mandated environmental remediation, the increased price of construction materials could drive up the cost by $160,000 to $170,000, according to Superintendent of Schools Frank Ferraro.
“We’re trying to offset that additional cost by doing some of the preliminary work in-house,” explained Mark Bruscino, director of school plant operations.
As the job transitions to the more complex work, Bruscino said the contractor will be redeveloping a small garage on the building’s Elm St. side to accommodate the new BOE meeting room and caucus room.
Mark Construction will also build a modest addition to the building, also on the Elm St. side, which will house the new first-floor front entrance and reception area for visitors.
The first and second floors will be reconfigured as office space for an estimated 30 BOE employees including the superintendent and all central staff who handle business, payroll, registration and special education-related duties for the school district.
Another big part of the project will be the installation of an elevator to provide access to the second-floor offices and to several self-contained basement-level classrooms that, according to Ferraro, will serve special education youngsters. How many classes and numbers of children have yet to be determined.
Some windows on the Midland Ave. side of the building will be replaced.
The BOE meeting room and all of the BOE staff offices, except for the special education personnel who now occupy rented space on Kearny Ave., are now housed in a wing of the Franklin Elementary School campus.
That space will revert back to Franklin School whose principal, Yvonne Cali, says that with an enrollment of about 1,100, Franklin ranks as one of the biggest schools “in the Northeast Corridor.”
Cali said she plans to move her three pre-school classes – about 75 4-year-olds – into the space now occupied by BOE administrators and staff where she can more easily monitor them from her nearby office. “They have bathrooms there,” Cali noted, so the plumbing is in place to serve toddlers’ needs, probably with some adjustments.
Cali said she’d like to convert the space vacated by the pre-schoolers into computer labs.
As of now, Cali said that because classroom sizes are holding “pretty stable,” she doesn’t foresee using any of the newfound space to open additional sections of any grades.
Back at Midland Ave., Ferraro said the contractor anticipates that once he begins the job, the building will be ready for use “within six months,” so the spring should see new life there.
“We’re excited things are moving forward,” Ferraro said.
Ferraro, however, won’t be among those relocating immediately into the Midland Ave. building. He has said that he plans, instead, to make a temporary detour – along with Assistant Superintendent Debra Sheard and Bruscino – to Kearny High where they can keep tabs on the stalled construction project there.
“I’m looking to keep my presence at the high school at a minimum,” he said, acknowledging that students and staff already are dealing with distractions from the ongoing work in and out of the school building, which has prompted the BOE to move some students into classroom trailers parked on the school’s front lawn.
Last month, the BOE picked a new contractor to complete the unfinished $40 million job which was to provide new soundproofed windows to block out persistent aircraft noise, along with additional classroom space, a new cafeteria and a five-story atrium. Last year, the BOE parted ways with the original contract via a “termination for convenience.” Now both parties must negotiate a settlement.