NEWTON, NJ—As the brick on the wall outside of Merriam Avenue Elementary School states, the building was originally built in 1963 and housed pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students.
However, in 2001, an addition expanded the school to house the fifth graders from Halsted Middle School for a few years. The new space included a gymnasium with extra classrooms, restrooms and an elevator.
While the elementary school currently houses grades pre-k through fourth, the School Facilities Consolidation Plan being proposed by the Newton Board of Education, calls for another expansion onto the Merriam Avenue school’s grounds to house grades pre-k through eighth on one site.
On Monday, March 20, the Newton Board of Education, Principal Kevin Stanton, Vice Principal Kenny Lutz and approximately twenty residents and parents took a tour of the school before the board of education meeting. The expansion option and design were on the evening’s agenda.
Throughout the tour Stanton pointed out the current layout of the building, how the spaces are currently used and the many important spaces within the school. Newton Superintendent Dr. Kennedy Greene added comments about the conceptual design from EI Associates regarding the proposed rooms and how they would be used.
An important room within Merriam is the gymnasium that was part of the 2001 addition. Halsted’s gymnasium is too small to fit the all the students in a physical education class at one time. Halsted’s physical education teachers have gotten creative in their teaching methods.
“We meet with the students two times a week,” said Merriam gym teacher, Steve Down. “We also go into the classroom and teach health and technology one time a week. We teach adaptive physical education as well. Recess is held in the gym, which is a big part of the day, especially when you can’t bring the kids outside because of the snow and weather conditions.”
“The upstairs classrooms [at Merriam], currently house our second, third, and some fourth grades, which is our highest grade, will be the new sixth grade classrooms per the conceptual plan layout,” said Stanton.
One important feature that Merriam is an elevator. This gives the school the ability to transport students with handicap disabilities to all floors.
In contrast, Halsted only has a chairlift that transports the students between two of the four floors. Even that is limited as part of the second floor cannot be accessed from the side of the building serviced by the stair chair.
“One of the things we don’t have at Halsted is an elevator,” said Greene “and so we are only able to transport kids between two floors. To put an elevator at Halsted to fulfill the ADA requirements would be quite expensive as well.”
Along with classrooms on the second floor of the school, Merriam houses the nurse’s office, social worker and guidance counselor’s offices and small room instruction spaces for speech classes, occupational therapy and more.
“We try to provide a very high level of service to our students at Merriam Avenue school, so we have our social worker who works with both individual students as well as families and our guidance counselor,” Stanton said. “I believe in the plan. There is an office for a social worker and guidance counselor on the first floor for early childhood and then one on the second floor.”
Greene confirmed that all locations of grade level classrooms, administrative offices and small instruction rooms are conceptual at this point, that “small group rooms will be replicated downstairs, so we would have pre-k through third downstairs and fourth through eighth upstairs close to where the students are and can get to them.
“The model for the expansion has the administrative offices still in the front of the building and we’ll probably be expanding that. The nurse’s office, we think is currently too small for the current population and definitely too small for a pre-k to eight, so that will be being relocated into a bigger space that will be easily accessible.”
Many questions arose from the public who attended the tour in regarding staffing, scheduling, concerns about the adequacy and appropriateness of the library space, the spacing and timing issues in the cafeteria as it currently is and for the future if enrollment grows in the future, and more.
“A generalized statement about staffing is that we will still be teaching the same number of students and will still need the same amount of staffing, but it’s going to be thought of as a consolidation of two schools,” said Greene. “We won’t be losing or cutting staff, if anything, we currently have spaces where we need to add more staff.”
Stella Dunn, the current president of the Newton Board of Education, along with the other members of the board attended the tour as well. “You might have re-titling or name changes done for staffing once the consolidation occurs,” she said.
EI Associates presented their conceptual design layout during the board of education meeting that night in the Merriam Avenue all purpose room.
There will be another tour, this time at the high school, before the next board meeting on March 28 at 6 p.m. The meeting at the high school is due to begin at 7 p.m. The board's agenda is expected to include a resolution to submit the project to the New Jersey Department of Education for approval. If the board approves the submission the anticipated timeline for the project will go through September of 2019.
- June 30, 2016- board receives NJDOE approval
- July 25, 2017- board notification of referendum
- September 26, 2017- referendum
- January 2018- design complete
- March 2018- plan review complete/receive construction bids
- June 2018- start construction
- September 2019- construction complete/available for occupancy