BASKING RIDGE, NJ -- School buildings may be closed, but Bernards Township leaders have advanced two projects foreseen to open in the fall of 2021.

One is the $2.9 million rebuilding of the kitchen and cafeteria at Ridge High School. The other would improve science rooms at William Annin Middle School.

On March 16, the Board of Education approved a contract with architect John Standish Perrin, based in Mountainside, for construction administration services until June 30 for a fee not to exceed $30,000.

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On April 13, the board approved withdrawal of $172,350 from the Capital Reserve Fund and moving it to pay for the design costs of the two projects.

“Perrin has been hired the last several summers for project management. He is being brought in now to get up to speed on the two major projects being designed now for work being bid in the fall of 2020 and starting construction in spring of 2021,” said Superintendent Nick Markarian in an email.   

Both would be in operation in the fall of 2021.

Counters to handle accommodate sinks and water service will be installed in four sixth-grade science rooms. Two eighth-grade earth science rooms will see new cabinets and counters built for lab stations, he said.

The kitchen, which will be enlarged and feature new ovens, refrigerators, stoves and the like, is a necessary part of the plan to restructure the high school day to a “rotating drop” block schedule of fewer, but longer, class periods per day.

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

"Perrin is having input now. We want him to be part of the planning process to maximize his ability to manage the project when it begins,” Markarian wrote.

In December the Bernards Township Board of Education decided only to rebuild the kitchen while dropping a plan to add four classrooms on a second floor.

Markarian said in January the kitchen would virtually be gutted and perhaps expanded by annexing an adjacent all-purpose workroom. Thirty-year-old kitchen equipment would be replaced.

The scenario projects 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.

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 eight class periods, each about 55 to 60 minutes long, in a day. Such a revision 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.