It’s all systems go for what the Kearny Board of Education hopes will be the final phase of the long-delayed multi-million dollar project to renovate Kearny High School.
Scaffolding that seemed a permanent feature of the high school building is now gone, signaling that work has been completed on the installation of new windows with soundproof features designed to deaden the noise of low-flying aircraft.
And, with all the litigation involving a prior general contractor now out of the way, the Bennett Co. of Kearny – awarded the $26.8 million job of finishing work on the high school’s North Building – is currently moving forward with excavation in the old pool area for concrete footings and foundation to serve as anchors for steel beams.
BOE attorney Kenneth Lindenfelser said the way was cleared for Bennett, as the low bidder on the project, to proceed after an arbitrator ruled that the BOE was entitled to $409,918 in disputed billings from the former G.C. Brockwell & Carrington in connection with the exterior renovation contract.
The BOE opted to use that award as a credit against a prior award to B&C for $2,994,889 in connection with the noise abatement contract, Lindenfelser said, leaving a net balance due B&C of $2,584,971. That payment was due July 15.
Back to construction plans: Robert Elsmore, BOE supervisor of plant operations, told The Observer last Friday that Bennett “is looking to get the steel in by very early August.”
In the meantime, Elsmore said, the contractor – who built an addition to Lincoln School some years ago – “cleared out a lot of the old stuff” from the former pool site at the high school and has done “some demolition and light construction – pulled down a cornice and jacked out an area where the elevator will go.”
That elevator will access an interior addition comprising 20 new classrooms spread over several floors, off a central vertical atrium. On the lower level, plans call for a new cafeteria and an expansive culinary arts program.
Bennett will also be working on moving in mechanicals for installation of standpipes, utilities and air-conditioning, Elsmore said.
Where the steel will be coming from and exactly when delivery is expected could not be readily learned last week as neither BOE business administrator/board secretary Michael DeVita (reappointed June 27 at an annual base pay of $149,908 plus $3,500 longevity pay) nor operations director Mark Bruscino could be reached.
Officials were hoping that the contractor could get a jump on the heavy construction during the summer before classes resume in September. It appears that the classroom trailers stationed on the high school’s front lawn will continue to be used during the coming school year.
Meanwhile, as the fall semester approaches, the BOE has additional concerns about how it will adjust financially to the anticipated September opening of the town’s first-ever charter school – Hudson Arts & Science – at the former Mater Dei/St. Stephen’s School building, across from BOE offices, on Midland Ave.
Documents furnished by HA&S to the state Department of Education project an initial enrollment of 350 in kindergarten through grade 5.
While the paperwork does not provide a geographical breakdown for those prospective students, one BOE source told The Observer that Kearny’s school residence office has learned, from discussions with HA&S, that about 300 will likely be Kearny children, with others expected to be transfers from Kearny Christian Academy and Queen of Peace in North Arlington, along with kids from the North Hudson area, Belleville and Garfield.
Kearny BOE will be on the hook for tuition payments for all HA&S students who are Kearny residents and, based on the initial forecast, that could translate to an obligation of about $2.2 million for the 2016-2017 school year, according to the source.
If those numbers hold, the BOE, which has already adopted its budget for the coming school year, will have to figure out where to make cuts to extract the required tuition fees it is mandated to pay the charter school.
HA&S’s charter term approved by the DOE is for five years, running through the 2019-2020 school year, and with each succeeding year, the school gets to add an extra grade, up through grade 8, so that its enrollment is projected to grow to 540 by the fifth year so, conceivably, the Kearny BOE’s financial obligation could increase accordingly.