PRINCETON: School district eyes potential sites for a preschool, administrative offices

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School board member Dafna Kendal is chairwoman of the facilities committee.

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Princeton school district has found “potential sites” to put a preschool and offices for administrators, in a sign that officials plan to make the former Valley Road School a functioning public school again.
School board member Dafna Kendal, chairwoman of the facilities committee, said Thursday that the district is working with professionals to help in its search.
“We’ve identified sites that we’re considering,” she said, to find a property that “makes the most sense financially for the district.”
At this stage, the district is leaving the door open to having to buy more than one parcel, depending on whether it can find land big enough to accommodate all of its needs in one place.
“We’re looking for available land, open land or a building that we could move into,” district business administrator Stephanie Kennedy said Thursday. “We’ve looked at a lot of land.“
For confidentiality reasons to protect the district’s negotiating position, Kendal declined to elaborate where the parcels are located or who their owners are. She said the district would say more “when we have a contract.”
Of the properties the district is looking at, “some are on the market, some aren’t on the market,” Kennedy said. “I can’t really discuss it until I have something that’s confirmed.”
The district is not in negotiations with any property owner, Kennedy said.
A land purchase, however, would be part of a facilities bond referendum that the district is planning to put on the ballot next October, Kendal said. As part of a much larger series of projects, the district would like to move central office administrators, transportation staff and school buses out of Valley Road into other locations, she said. Depending on whether a site is large enough, a preschool would open there as well, she said.
In that scenario, Valley Road — the entire building, including an older section in need of extensive renovations — would be freed up to become a school for fifth-and sixth-graders, she said.
Amid a growing enrollment that is projected to get bigger still, Princeton is looking to have a referendum to pay for an addition to Princeton High School, open a school for fifth-graders and sixth-graders that would free up space in other schools, among other projects.
Kendal pointed to how the district is growing. Enrollment at the high school is over capacity by 100 students and John Witherspoon Middle School is over capacity by 200, Superintendent of Schools Stephen C. Cochrane has said. More students are expected in the coming years, based on an analysis by the district’s demographer.
“We have to work with the information that we have,” Kendal said when asked about making major financial investments based on enrollment forecasts that might prove wrong. “We have to trust our professionals.”
In terms of its public relations campaign for the referendum, the district could have more details to release in the short term and then will look to take its case to residents directly.
“I think we will have something to show to the community before the end of the year, hopefully,” Kendal said. “We will be having meetings with the community to answer questions and get feedback and listen to concerns and assure them that we’re doing this in the most fiscally responsible way possible.”