PRINCETON: Increases in student enrollment has officials thinking expanding schools

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Princeton schools logo 6/11/15

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton Public Schools opened this week with a growing student enrollment that has the district eyeing a bond referendum to pay for capital projects, with one official leaving the door open for building a new school.
Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane said Tuesday that there are 131 more students in the district compared to when schools ended in June. That total, spread across the district, does not reflect the expected enrollment bump from students living at the AvalonBay and Princeton University Merwick-Stanworth residential developments when both are fully constructed.
“But we’re still continuing to grow,” he said after the school board meeting. “The problem is … usually enrollment is fairly stable in Princeton during the course of a school year. But with AvalonBay …, that number could increase.”
AvalonBay’s development on Witherspoon Street, and Merwick-Stanworth off Bayard Lane, will have 600 residential units when completed.
In outlining enrollment growth, Mr. Cochrane said there are 14 more students at Princeton High School, with a total of 1,590 students. Community Park Elementary School, located up the street from AvalonBay, has 40 more students, he said. Riverside Elementary School is up 24 students, Johnson Park Elementary up 19, Littlebrook Elementary up around 20 more and John Witherspoon Middle School up 33 more, he said.
“So we’re seeing an increase in numbers and so it is pushing us in terms of space,” Mr. Cochrane said. “We’re very tight for space.”
The amount and the timing of any bond referendum would need to be ironed out, but Mr. Cochrane talked of the need for more classroom space as well as more athletic fields.
School board president Andrea Spalla said Wednesday by phone that there have been no official discussions about a referendum, “yet.” She said, however, it is something that officials will be thinking about in the coming months.
Asked if a referendum would include money for constructing a new school, she replied, “It’s possible.”
She said the district needs more space but said it was too soon to say how that would be accomplished, either through constructing a new building or by expanding existing buildings.
“Nothing’s been ruled out because nothing’s been discussed,” she said.
In 2012, the school district went to voters with a $10.95 million bond referendum that paid for the new learning commons at the middle school and improvements to athletic facilities, among other things. 