LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Livingston Board of Education discussed construction and parking issues with the Livingston Huaxia Chinese School at its first meeting of the 2015-16 school calendar at Livingston High School Monday evening.

Construction Update

Business Administrator Steven Robinson indicated that all major indoor construction projects throughout the district are complete; all schools opened on time. Minor projects remain. Two kindergarten classrooms at Hillside Elementary are still undergoing expansion and are slated to be complete on Sept. 18.

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“That was a matter of the contractor underestimating how long that would take,” said Robinson. “There’s really no excuse for that.”

A classroom at Harrison Elementary School will be completed on Sept. 21 due to unforeseen drainage pipe issues.

“To be perfectly frank, a lot of [the construction] was barely finished in time,” said Robinson. “It was a little too close for comfort.”

Robinson cited the case of the Riker Hill Elementary School media center. The center has been turned over to the district and the room itself has been completed, although the actual technological infrastructure has yet to be fully installed. The wiring and implementation of the technology is scheduled to be completed by the end of this week.

“It was yeoman’s work to get that done, there were probably over 100 guys working on the room” up until the deadline, according to Robinson. “Why there wasn’t that kind of consistent effort throughout, I’m not sure.”

Landscaping and outdoor efforts remain at several schools. The district also must conduct the process of gathering “punch list items,” in essence reviewing the construction and submitting items of correction to the contractor. Robinson indicated that all efforts, including the punch list items, should be completely finished by Oct. 1. He also indicated that any change orders came in well under the budgeted contingencies and that any overtime hours of manpower incurred by the district will be charged to the contractor.

Interim Superintendent Ernest Palestis praised the efforts of district staff in dealing with the construction.

“I want to commend our faculty and staff,” said Palestis. “I heard stories of teachers who couldn’t get into their classrooms during the day coming in during nights and weekends to ready the rooms and put bulletin boards up. They went above and beyond.”

Huaxia Chinese School

The public comment portion of the evening was dominated by discussion of parking issues at Mt. Pleasant Middle School. The Huaxia Chinese School currently uses the facility on Saturdays to conduct classes and serve as a social gathering. As the Chinese community participating in programs or classes has grown, so has the strain on the facility and the area.

“The Chinese community has grown exponentially, which is a wonderful thing,” said Robinson. “But the facility is still the same size as it always has been. It can’t accommodate that growth.”

In addition to the classes conducted at Mt. Pleasant, many adults use the cafeteria to congregate and socialize. This has lead to a swelling of cars in the area during the hours that the school is operating. Many residents in the area have complained of not being able to get out of their driveways and having difficulty maneuvering, according to Robinson. Safety is also an issue; Robinson indicated that the fire department chief had told him that a fire engine would have trouble entering critical points of the neighborhood.

Many Huaxia parents were responding to a recently issued ban on adults using the Mt. Pleasant cafeteria while children participated in language classes and programs. Multiple parents complained that the since the ban was issued so soon before the school year starts on Sept. 19, there has not been adequate time to discuss alternatives.

The communal aspect of the cafeteria gatherings was also emphasized. The gatherings are an important part of the Chinese community staying anchored in their culture and being able to communicate and congregate together.

The District has provided use of Harrison Elementary School gymnasium as an additional building location for adult school classes. The additional building site was included in the contract signed between the administration of Huaxia and Livingston Public Schools.

“We really want to emphasize that we embrace the Huaxia community and consider it an important part [of Livingston],” Board President Pamela Chirls said. “We will continue to have a dialogue and examine this issue.”