Edison schools ready to launch $100 million project to address overcrowding

EDISON – The school district is getting ready to launch a $100 million project to ease overcrowding in township schools.

The project, tentatively scheduled to be completed in five to seven years, is also designed to upgrade aging facilities.

The work is all under "one giant plan to address overcrowding" in two phases for the projects, district Business Administrator Jonathan Toth said.

Overcrowding has become an acute issue in the past five to seven years, Acting Superintendent of Schools Edward Aldarelli said, adding that it predates both his and Toth's tenures with the district.

And given district projections, he does not see student enrollment slowing down.

"Our enrollment numbers from last year to this year have gone up," Aldarelli said. "From last year, we were below 17,000. This year, we're at 17,250. We want to make sure that we have the capacity moving forward − that we're not kind of piecing it together."

According to Aldarelli and Toth, some projects, such as HVAC upgrades to the elementary schools, will be financed with assistance from funding from the state.

For some others, Toth said, state funding will be requested, but the projects will still go forth if denied. The district will not be seeking state funding for some work

No referendum is necessary for any of the projects, officials said.

Aldarelli, who came to the district in 2020 as director of human resources, said the project is the culmination of work by past and present school boards and administrations.

"It's really exciting to be a part of this," said Aldarelli, who was appointed acting superintendent when Bernard Bragen left to become the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Virginia last fall. "There's been a little bit of transition over the course of the last three to five years, and it's great to see that the one common theme is that we are committed to addressing our overcrowding issues. This will provide the needed space in our schools for students and staff to be comfortable and some much needed updates."

It's also the time to update some of the facilities, he said.

"Many of our schools were built in the ‘50s, with the exception of Monroe and some additions," he said. "I think this is something that is going to provide really nice learning environments for students. Kids get excited when you walk into a new building, and it's fresh and everything is nice and new. You get excited about learning. I think this is a great opportunity for our district to power forward and it shows we're committed to the vision of addressing district-wide issues, and overcrowding has been seen here for quite some time. I'm really proud to be a part of that."

The Edison school district’s $97 million Capital Improvement Project includes additions and renovations to J.P. Stevens High School.
The Edison school district’s $97 million Capital Improvement Project includes additions and renovations to J.P. Stevens High School.

On March 21, the school board passed a resolution authorizing and directing DMR Architects and Toth to prepare a submission package to the state Department of Education and bidding documents.

On Tuesday, the board is out for bids on a construction management firm to oversee the many projects, Toth said.

Next steps include the state Department of Education reviewing the capital outlay project for approval and arranging and preparing more projects to go out for bid.

According to school officials, the need for the project came from discussions with school principals and surveys about building needs, review of class sizes and enrollment projections and overcrowding issues.

The main goal is to end overcrowding, Aldarelli said.

"The board from two years ago developed this plan and every board since has taken this plan, adopted it as their own and put it into action and given the superintendent direction to implement this plan, and now it is bearing fruit," Toth said. "And we're lucky to have an acting superintendent who can unite the entire board along with the administration and continue to deliver this plan in the manner that the board sees fit. We're completing Lincoln School; we're going next to work on Hoover School and there will be more projects to come."

More: Edison school board considers options for J.P. Stevens High School renovation, expansion

Once all overcrowding concerns were addressed, Aldarelli said capital monies from that point forward would be used for improving existing facilities.

"And now, this is just us taking action on that plan," Aldarelli said. "And without a doubt, this should take us into the into the future in good shape."

"We think that following through on this plan that was developed by the board puts us in a very comfortable position to address the needs of all students," Toth added. "Those that we're currently servicing but couldn't be servicing in the next couple of years."

The work

The first phase includes work at John P. Stevens High School, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Herbert Hoover Middle School, John Adams Middle School, Thomas Jefferson Middle School, James Madison Intermediate School and John Marshall Elementary School.

The $97 million price tag is broken up into several projects, including $17 million at John Adams Middle School, $11 million for James Madison Intermediate School and nearly $8 million at John Marshall Elementary School. But Toth noted the cost is subject to fluctuation due to increases in pricing of materials and construction costs.

Among the larger projects, these include converting an existing locker room to classrooms at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, converting an existing locker room to a dance studio and orchestra room at John Adams Middle School, a cafeteria expansion, new classroom addition and auditorium renovation at John P. Stevens High School.

Other work includes bathroom renovations, classroom and laboratory upgrades, classroom additions, door replacements, driveways and parking lots and more.

Other necessary projects have been added to Phase 1, said Aldarelli, raising the total to $100 million.

More: Edison schools begins search for new superintendent. Here's what we know

Last Tuesday, the school board awarded the bid for the Herbert Hoover gymnasium addition. Thirteen companies submitted bids, which was awarded to GPC with a winning bid of $6.1 million.

Already underway and nearing completion is the Lincoln School addition project, including classrooms and auditorium additions, Aldarelli said. This project was not part of the larger effort. Approved in 2021, the $10 million project had "shovels in the ground by that summer" and is expected to be completed in May, he said.

The second phase includes Edison High School, Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, Washington Elementary School, Lindeneau Elementary School, Martin Luther King Elementary School and James Madison Primary School.

Most of the elementary schools and middle schools will be undergoing additions or renovations as part of the project's scope.

Nearly every school will see classroom additions as well as gymnasium and auditorium expansions or additions. Thomas Jefferson Middle School also will see a school entrance and main office and security vestibule project.

At the high schools, Edison High School will see the addition of 10 classrooms at a cost of $10 million while John P. Steven High School has 10 classrooms, an auditorium and new turf field planned for a cost of $24 million.

The Edison school district’s $97 million Capital Improvement Project includes additions and renovations to J.P. Stevens High School.
The Edison school district’s $97 million Capital Improvement Project includes additions and renovations to J.P. Stevens High School.

According to district officials, the majority of the funding sources, about $61 million, will come from the district's capital reserve, ESSER III Funds and capital funds in the 2022-23, 2023-24 and 2024-25 district budgets.

The remaining balance of about $33 million comes from $25 million leased over five years from the capital account, $8 million taken from the 2025-26 annual budget and $5.5 million taken from the capital outlay, also in the 2025-26 school year.

The work can be done during the school year in phases with construction being completed outside the normal operating schedules so as to not interrupt the school day, Aldarelli said.

"Our job will be to coordinate this with building principals and get the messaging out to parents as well to just let them know where we are in those phases and that it won't be interfering with the day-to-day operation of the schools," he said.

email: cmakin@gannettnj.com

Cheryl Makin is an award-winning features and education reporter for MyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or @CherylMakinTo get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Edison schools ready to launch $100M project to address overcrowding