District to look at adding space to Princeton High School

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Princeton High School

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane is “looking” to include the addition of more classroom and other space to Princeton High School as part of a bond referendum that would go before voters in March.
Cochrane, speaking after Tuesday’s school board meeting, declined to put a dollar amount on how much construction might cost. He was firm, however, that a PHS expansion would be included in the ballot question.
“We’re looking to put together an entire proposal for the referendum, which would include the high school addition,” he said. “We want to expand our cafeteria, we want to expand the number of science rooms, we want to expand the number of just general classrooms that we have to accommodate our continued growth.”
A demographic and capacity study for the district concluded the high school needed nine more classrooms and one to two “small group instruction rooms.”
Cochrane said architects for the district have “some ideas” where an addition could go within the current footprint of PHS. One possible location would eat up parking spots, which already are at a premium.
The upcoming referendum comes with enrollment at the high school and elsewhere in the district growing and projected to grow in the years ahead. As recently as 2011, the school system had 3,339 students, but that statistic has trended upward, such that there were 3,671 students in 2016—and more on the way.
A demographic study, released in March, forecast Princeton having around 3,800 students, with some fluctuation, through 2021. Looking further ahead, the school population is projected to top 3,920 beginning in 2023, the report showed.
At the high school, enrollment is due to reach 1,656 students in 2018, and exceed 1,770 in 2025, based on the same report.
“There’s going to be a big enrollment increase, we’re planning for it,” said school board member Dafna Kendal.
An unknown at this point is how a Mercer County judge rules on what the town’s affordable housing requirement will be for 1999 to 2025; more residential development would add children into the schools. A decision by Judge Mary C. Jacobson is expected in August.
To add space, Princeton is considering acquiring more real estate.
The district has submitted a proposal to Rider University for the campus of its Westminster Choir College, which is up for sale. Cochrane said Westminster “potentially” could be part of the referendum too.
“So until we get everything figured out with Rider, we’re not going to have a complete package to put out to the community,” he said.
The district, he continued, is hoping to hear back from Rider by September, the same month it would need to submit a referendum plan to the state Department of Education six months in advance of a vote by the public.
“The idea is to have a referendum in March of 2018,” Cochrane said. “So we’re going to start talking about our proposal in the fall.”
That timetable would mean the school board would have to approve any such referendum proposal before then, with the board next meeting Aug. 29.
But the leader of the school board sounded less definite about the PHS addition than Cochrane.
“We’ve looked at a few different suggestions, but we haven’t come to any conclusions,” board President Patrick Sullivan said after the meeting. “You can’t say there’s going to be a high school addition, you can’t say there’s not. It’s just we don’t know yet.”