Kearny High School facelift underway

By Ron Leir

The trailers that Kearny High School intends to use as temporary classrooms during its 3-year reconstruction have arrived.
But exactly when students will begin occupying them remains something of a quandary, as does the status of the overall $39 million project.
Interior demolition work of the old high school pool area is “well under way,” noted Steve Williams, project manager for the general contractor, Brockwell & Carrington, of Towaco, and evidence of that progress was made clear during an impromptu tour arranged for The Observer last Thursday.
Still, Williams conceded that “we’ve lost some time … three to four months” on the overall construction schedule because of what he described as “a couple of issues with permits” needed from the town construction code office.
That office, Williams said, “had questions on the architect’s drawings,” as to “application of code issues.”
Asked for clarification, Michael Martello, the town’s construction official, said: “The (Kearny) Board of Education submitted a number of drawings to the town which the town has reviewed… There were issues with the architect of record. The town has tried to work with the school board in getting the permits issued properly.”
Part of the difficulty in the matter, Martello said, is that the applicable building codes have been updated since approximately 2006 when the school board initially had plans drafted for the improvements. (It wasn’t until much later that the board got outside funding commitments and overcame contractual litigation hurdles on the project.)
Elaborating, Anthony Chisari, the town’s assistant construction official/building sub code official, said that the town and the board’s architect “have gone back and forth on design criteria” for the project.
One of those design issues, Chisari said, deals with “ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance – things like the swing of classroom rooms, grab bars, handicapped-access bathrooms.”
Another issue is providing plans for a sprinkler system.
The school board has taken steps to try and resolve the logjam by voting unanimously to terminate its contract with the project architect, DF Gibson, of New York, and to hire a replacement firm, Sen Architects, one of two architectural outfits recommended by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Board President George King said that the board voted unanimously on Dec. 19 to approve a separation settlement with DF Gibson that included, among other things, payment of monies owed to the firm and the board’s right to ownership of Gibson’s plans on the project. Terms of the settlement weren’t readily available at press time. The board also agreed to pay Sen a $300,000 fee for its work between now and the remainder of the project, King said.
“I believe this will resolve all outstanding issues,” King said. “All along, the board’s goal was to keep the project going forward and I was told that the town was going along.” When complete, the project calls for 20 new classrooms, an enlarged cafeteria, soundproofed doors and windows and a new ventilation system and an atrium atop a five-story light court.
Meanwhile, demolition workers appear to be in the final phase of knocking down masonry walls of the former enclosure that housed the long-empty pool and balcony where youth services offices were formerly housed.
The pool ceiling is gone and the remaining shell is now exposed to the elements, with only piles of bricks and rubble left on the ground. Murals that once adorned the east and west walls of the pool area have been removed for safekeeping, according to Williams.
Taking the place of the pool site will be a new culinary arts facility.
Next on the agenda, Williams said, are preparations to partition off interior first-floor school corridors so as to close off access to portions of the wood shop and auto shop classes. But before any further interior demolition can occur, there will have to be some asbestos abatement, Williams said.
That job, which is contingent on getting local and state environmental permits, is expected to begin by mid- to late January, Williams said.
At around the same time, it is hoped that students can start moving into the 14 trailers that the school board is leasing from GE Mod-Space. “These units were built eight to 10 years ago and they’re built to move from job site to job site,” Williams said.
Each trailer is designed to hold up to “20-something” students. Each will be equipped with air-conditioning, two bathrooms, carpeting and will be wired for lighting and computer access.
Still to come are the plumbing and electrical connections, along with a linkup to the high school fire alarm system. The trailers will also be outfitted with security alarms.
Students will be rotated through the trailers in stages linked to the construction plan, school administrators said. How that will work hasn’t yet been made known by administrators.
In the meantime, the school board is sifting through a list of 21 applicants for a permanent superintendent of schools. Acting Supt. Ron Bolandi said the board plans to narrow the field to six candidates for interviews Jan. 4 and 5. A second round of “cuts” is expected around mid-January, he said.
The board voted Dec. 19 to extend Bolandi’s contract through June 30 “to ensure that we have enough time to make a final selection,” King said.

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