If there were ever any doubts that enrollment in the Princeton Public Schools is on the upswing, those doubts were squashed by the findings released by a consulting firm at a special community meeting.
Milone & MacBroom, the consulting firm that was hired by school district officials to figure out how to handle anticipated growth, shared its findings at the Jan. 25 forum at Princeton High School.
Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane set the stage for the forum, stating that “we are here because of the students currently in the system and who we know are coming (in the next five to 10 years).”
The question is how to accommodate the students “in the most educationally and economically viable way” for the community, Cochrane said. It may mean additions to some schools, re-districting the four elementary schools, or adjustments in schedules, he said.
“We are here to figure it out together,” Cochrane said, as he handed over the meeting to Michael Zuba, the principal in charge at Milone & MacBroom, and project manager Rebecca Augur.
Zuba told the approximately 200 attendees that the objective is to look five or 10 years down the road and to present a range of options to accommodate the surge in student enrollment. Through such community forums, a preferred recommendation will be made, he said.
“It is still early in the process. There is still a lot of planning ahead for us,” Zuba said. He turned over the presentation to Augur, who explained what the consultants had discovered in demographics, housing and enrollment projections.
In the past 10 years, Augur said, enrollment has increased by 14 percent – from 3,390 students in the 2009-2010 school year to 3,855 in the 2019-2020 school year.
Over the past four years, all of the schools – except the Johnson Park School – have experienced increased enrollments. Between 2015-2016 and 2019-2020, enrollment at the Riverside School went up by 26 percent; at the Littlebrook School, by 21 percent; and at the Community Park School, by 19 percent.
The John Witherspoon Middle School has shown an 8-percent increase in the past four years in the grades 6-8 school, while Princeton High School has shown a 1.5-percent increase, Augur reported.
Some of the increased enrollment has been generated by newly built multi-family housing developments, such as AvalonPrinceton on the former Medical Center of Princeton site on Witherspoon Street; Copperwood in Princeton, on Bunn Drive; and Merwick-Stanworth on Bayard Lane. The developments contain a mix of market rate and affordable housing units.
Of the 200 to 230 students who live in those new developments, 52 percent are enrolled in the elementary schools; 22 percent are enrolled at the middle school; and 26 percent are enrolled at the high school, Augur said.
Princeton’s recent settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center, which sued the municipality over its lack of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households, is expected to bring additional students into the Princeton Public Schools.
As a result of the lawsuit settlement, it is expected that 880 units will be built by 2027, Augur said. About 40 percent of the units will be affordable to low- and moderate-income households. Some will be age-restricted developments and some will be group homes, neither of which generates school children.
Five of the eight anticipated housing developments will likely generate students in the Littlebrook School district. The rest of the developments would be in the Community Park and Riverside school zones, she explained.
The eight developments would include 150 affordable housing units in the Littlebrook School zone; about 80 units in the Community Park School zone; and about 25 units in the Riverside School zone.
The Community Park, Johnson Park and Riverside elementary schools would likely not experience overcrowding at any point in the next 10 years, but the Littlebrook School already exceeds its capacity of 392 students and will continue to absorb more students.
The John Witherspoon Middle School and Princeton High School could exceed capacity over the long term, she said. The middle school has a capacity of 628 students, and the high school has a capacity of 1,544 students.
Looking ahead, Augur said total enrollment in grades K-12 could increase to 4,366 students in the 2029-2030 school year. The middle school will increase from 778 students today to 960 students in 10 years, while the high school enrollment will grow from 1,590 students now to 2,012 in 10 years.
Wrapping up the presentation, consultants James Nichols and Daniel Balto reported that each of the six school buildings has issues. Across all the schools, the core spaces – gyms, cafeterias and kitchens – were over-taxed.
Improvements to the buildings to make them more sustainable are needed, from energy to lighting upgrades and infrastructure upgrades, Nichols and Balto said.
There are opportunities for adaptive re-use of the existing space and expansion of the core spaces at all of the schools, but not necessarily room for additions at all of them, Nichols and Balto said. There may be logistical factors in constructing a second or third floor to the one-floor elementary schools.
At the end of the presentation, attendees broke up into small groups to provide a chance to ask questions of the Milone & MacBroom team members. They could also offer input, which the consultants could take back for review.
Additional community meetings are planned, but no dates have been set.
Milone & MacBroom’s presentation is available on the Princeton Public Schools website at www.princetonk12.org.