NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – As work on the $47 million overhaul of the Paul Robeson Community Theme School for the Arts moves forward, local and state leaders met with New Brunswick students this week to commemorate the project by signing a steel beam.

The cornerstone of the improvements is a 60,000-square-foot, three-story addition that includes a multi-purpose room, 30 classrooms, four “small instruction rooms” and two basic-skills classrooms, according to the state Schools Development Authority. State-funded construction at the Commercial Avenue school began in early November.

Plans also call for a new fire sprinkler system and renovations to the existing food-service area, media center, classrooms, main office and student services suite.

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“It’s essential that we add capacity to New Brunswick’s expanding school community, and this beam-signing event marks yet another significant step in that direction,” New Brunswick Public Schools Superintendent Aubrey Johnson said in a statement on Feb. 8, the day of the event.

Charles McKenna, CEO of the Schools Development Authority, said the “almost-like-new” facility will be ready to accommodate students by 2018.

“Today’s event affords us an opportunity to celebrate the progress of this project with the New Brunswick community, especially with the students who will sign their names to a piece of steel that will support the educational infrastructure that will help them in their efforts to achieve success,” McKenna said in a statement.

The work is expected to double the number of students taught in the school, a move spurred by rapid growth in enrollment in the district.

Johnson told TAPinto New Brunswick last month that the Robeson school, which currently takes students in kindergarten through sixth grade, will expand to serve seventh- and eighth-graders.

Lincoln Annex School is also slated to accept students through eighth grade in the 2017-18 school year, according to the district.

When Johnson started working in the district less than two years ago, he said, too many elementary schools fed students to New Brunswick Middle School. Those students will now be spread among roughly a handful of K-8 buildings, easing the burden on the middle school, Johnson told TAPinto New Brunswick.

Hall Construction Company of Farmingdale won the $32 million contract to design and build the Paul Robeson school addition.

The Schools Development Authority has put $270 million toward work in New Brunswick. That includes four capital projects, according to the authority.