By Lisa Martone
After more than 30 years of talk and defeated referendums, the Lyndhurst Board of Education and Commissioners are finalizing plans for a $37 million state-of-the-art middle school.
“The schools right now are at capacity or exceeding it,” Mayor Richard DiLascio said. “They are crowded, (and) none of them have cafeterias. These kids are eating at their desks. It is a complete horror show.”
On Oct. 18, the commissioners met to gain approval from the board of education to continue with plans for the middle school, and to discuss the preliminary plans for the project, which will be located on Matera Field on Ridge Road and Marian Drive.
The need for a middle school was addressed back in the ‘70s, but years of defeated proposals left the project on the backburner for decades. Elected officials now feel the need for a new facility is greater than ever, and with redevelopment booming, schools are expected to become even more crowded.
“The latest proposal came on the heels of what I called the darkest day in history of the Lyndhurst School District, Dec. 14, 2004,” DiLascio said. “On that day, the Guida Administration signed a financial agreement with EnCap, agreeing to the construction of, among other things, 1,778 housing units.” DiLascio adds that the agreement went on to provide that “specifically and without limitation, there would be no money for school impacts resulting from phase one of construction.”
According to DiLascio, who was at that time on the board of education, he tried to explain to the citizens and the school board about the detrimental effects of such an agreement.
“This basically said that taxpayers would be forced to pay the price of any new construction needed to house these new students,” DiLascio said.
The new commissioners began looking into the original agreement about 16 months ago. Upon reviewing the documents, and communicating with Cherokee Northeast at several meetings, officials came to a new agreement, which would help foster education growth by providing this facility.
According to DiLascio, Cherokee agreed to partner with the community to help the school district. The deal, which should be finalized shortly, will call for Cherokee to take out a bond for the approximately $37 million price tag to build the middle school.
They will also be responsible for the construction of 250 more condominium units. The revenue, projected in millions, from the 250 units, and only from these units, will be allocated towards the repayment of the bonds.
“Basically the town is not losing anything here,” DiLascio said. “We are getting a middle school built at no cost to the taxpayers, and the revenue of these condominiums are going to repay it for us.” Bill Gaiser, president of Cherokee, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
DiLascio says if all goes as planned in the next couple of weeks, with the finalization of the agreement, ground will be broken in June, and the new school should be open by September 2009.
Upgrading education DiLascio, and a majority of commissioners, hope to departmentalize the education system throughout the district. As it is now, many teachers in the district belong to multiple departments. DiLascio hopes departmentalization will improve the quality of education students get. “The hope here is once the building is built, we can go into a departmental teaching style,” DiLascio said. “I give so much credit to all the teaching staff for delivering such a high level of education, in such poor facilities. But every teacher has their own nitch. This new middle school will have full science labs, where science teachers can teach and provide a higher level of education.”
Middle School Project The size of the facility will be approximately 125,000 square-feet in size. It will accommodate between 550 to 650 students – or an average of 22 students per classroom. According to the design plan by DMR Architects, of Hasbrouck Heights, it will also house a performing arts center, a cafeteria, a high school-sized gymnasium, modern labs and media center. The building will also incorporate the ability to function on generator power so it can be used by the Office of Emergency Management if needed. There isn’t another building in town with such capabilities.
The board of education also voted in favor of seeking grants for the construction of a pool at Lyndhurst High School.