BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- An architect will be hired to design a new kitchen for Ridge High School as part of the plan to restructure the school day.

Spiezle Architectural Group, of Trenton, was hired Jan. 6 to redesign and expand the school’s kitchen so that it could serve staff and students in one (albeit longer) class period. Spiezle would be paid $171,600 for its services.

In December the Bernards Township Board of Education pulled the plug on a planned two-story addition to Ridge High.

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The school board has determined that it could change its school-day schedule by using existing classrooms, but would need expanded and modernized kitchen facilities. The school is looking to make the change starting September 2021.

That means an originally estimated $7 million project could be accomplished by an estimated $2.9 million kitchen expansion, plus creative scheduling for classes.

Superintendent Nick Markarian said the kitchen would virtually be gutted and perhaps expanded by annexing an adjacent all-purpose workroom. Thirty-year-old kitchen equipment – stoves, ovens, refrigerators, etc. – would be replaced.

The scenario is for the work to be completed over a five-month time frame that would mean shutting down the kitchen for the last two to three months of the 2020-21 school year and “getting creative” in ways to serve lunch, Markarian said.

The bulk of the construction would take place over the summer with an eye to open the new kitchen simultaneous with a change in the length and number of classes per day.

Cafeteria seating space would not increase. Instead the school would look to other rooms and gyms as space for students to eat lunch.

The school wants to switch to a “rotating drop” schedule of fewer, but longer, class periods in a day. Such a revised schedule would require one common lunch period for the entire school. Now, about 2,000 students and staff eat lunch over many class periods spanning from about 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Following a demographer’s report that estimated a declining high school population at least through 2023-24, the board heard administrators in December describe how the high school could adapt to a rotating drop schedule with the facilities it has. It might be tight in the first school year of 2021-22, but grow easier as the student population declines in succeeding years.

Essentially, the school wants to switch to an eight-period day of an estimated 55-60 minutes per class. Right now, the school has nine periods of 42 minutes each. Students would have class in each subject in four of five days.