DENVILLE, NJ – Approximately 30 parents and teachers gathered in the Riverview Elementary School auditorium on Oct 16 to learn more about and discuss the Denville Board of Education’s plan to help ameliorate overcrowding at Riverview by leasing space across the street in the building once occupied by St. Mary’s Prep school.
Presently, Denville’s K-5 schools are at or exceed capacity, according to information from the New Jersey Department of Education shared at the meeting by Superintendent Steven Forte. Riverview’s 2019-20 enrollment exceeds capacity by 68 students, data shows. Lakeview Elementary School has nine more than it should. The problem stems from the implementation of full-day kindergarten approximately 10 years ago, introduction of new pre-K and special education programs, construction of new residential housing developments in town and elimination of trailers for student use.
“It took the district 13 years to eliminate the use of trailers and other substandard space for instruction after the last population increase in the early 2000s,” noted one of Forte’s presentation slides.
“It was a goal of mine when I first started [as superintendent six years ago] not to have students in trailers,” Forte stated. “We were able to accomplish that.”
To maintain the admirable status of Riverview’s facilities, Forte explained that the Board of Education wanted to avoid the use of substandard space like trailers, hallways, closets and classroom-sharing to address the school’s physical constraints. The opportunity to lease the former St. Mary’s Prep school accomplishes that goal. The leased space offers 10 additional classrooms, one gymnasium and one cafeteria.
The district proposes to lease the building for five years, the maximum length allowed by state law. It would house all fourth and fifth grade classes and would be considered an extension of Riverview – “two buildings but one school.”
Renovation and start-up costs would be slightly more than $500,000 and would not require a referendum or any debt, thus preserving the district’s debt-free status.
As for the internal and external appearances of the building, all religious artifacts would be returned to the archdiocese and replaced with Riverview branding so that it looks and feels like a Riverview school, according to Tina Theodoropoulos, the school’s principal.
Many parents voiced concern for the safety of the children as they traversed from one building to the next. Forte and Theodoropoulos reassured the parents that there would be a clearly defined crosswalk, and a police officer would be present to facilitate all crossings. Some parents suggested that the street between the two buildings be blocked off at least during school hours or converted to one way. Forte said he would share their recommendations with the Denville police chief.
Other parents were leery of the short-term nature of the solution. Forte stated that a five-year lease of a building was the more prudent approach given the inability to predict with certainty population trends five to 10 years from now.
Presently, the lease is still under review. The earliest it could be approved by the Board of Education is Oct 28. Thereafter, architect plans would be prepared Nov-Jan, and the project would go out to bid Jan-Feb. If all goes according to plan, the building would be ready for occupancy by Sept 1, 2020.
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