BERNARDS TWP., NJ _ A proposed 10,000-square-foot addition at Ridge High School _ about half of it within the building, and half an exterior extension behind the 700 wing _ passed a step of approval before the Planning Board that is necessary before construction can begin.

The Planning Board voted in agreement last week that the planned addition is consistent with the township Master Plan, following a brief report from its staff. That vote is the only approval that the project requires from the township board, school officials confirmed later in the week.

The goal is to begin the project in January, and to complete construction by next summer, said Anthony Catana, the board's architect.

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The expanded space would allow the high school to implement an eight-period school day instead of a nine-period day that has long been in place. It also includes a major overhaul of the high school's cafeteria. That would end the school's extended lunch schedule, which has had some students beginning their lunch period before 11 a.m. 

Before the board's vote, Board Planner David Banisch reported that he had reviewed the proposal and concluded that it would meet the Master Plan's goal of providing high quality municipal services, including the township's educational system. He said the exterior 5,000 expansion of the school building would be extend toward municipal property rather than a residential area.

Catana said the proposed addition is behind the school's Performing Arts Center. The Board of Education has already approved the project, he said.

The cost of the project has been estimated at about $6.7 million, school officials said. The school district's administrators have said that the project could be paid for with capital improvement funds in the budget rather than borrowing money.