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Freehold Borough administrators eyeing pupils’ return in December

FREEHOLD – Administrators in the Freehold Borough K-8 School District are hoping to have students return to the district’s three buildings in December.

In a letter dated Oct. 16, Superintendent of Schools Rocco Tomazic informed parents that Dec. 14 is the estimated date when students will be back in their classrooms.

Since the start of the 2020-21 school year, all of the district’s students have been receiving instruction on a remote basis.

District administrators determined that as the new school year began with the 2020 coronavirus outbreak still an issue, they were unable to meet health and safety guidelines related to the reopening of schools.

The schools have been closed since March when the coronavirus initially struck New Jersey. All students completed the 2019-20 school year by receiving instruction remotely.

Freehold Borough administrators were planning to begin the 2020-21 school year with a combination of in-person and remote learning, but that plan did not materialize after they identified two significant issues: the lack of physical barriers between students to limit the possible transmission of the virus, and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filtration systems, according to Tomazic.

In his Oct. 16 letter, Tomazic informed parents that HVAC is the only remaining issue preventing the physical reopening of the schools. To address the issue, administrators are pursuing a system called a bipolar ionizer that will meet the state’s HVAC requirements.

The superintendent reported that the district’s contractor has provided an initial construction schedule for the equipment’s installation and that Dec. 14 is the estimated date when students may be permitted to return to school.

“There are many variables that might adjust that date, but I put it out to give you (parents) a general idea of what may be possible,” Tomazic wrote. “More details will follow, particularly after the ionizer supplies are on site and the installation work has begun.”

On Oct. 12, the Board of Education issued a $278,300 contract to D&B Service Group for the installation of the bipolar ionizers at the district’s two facilities – the Park Avenue Complex, which houses the Park Avenue Elementary School and the Freehold Intermediate School, and the Freehold Learning Center elementary school.

According to district administrators, the $278,300 contract does not include connections to the building’s HVAC control system, which is estimated to cost an additional $50,000.

To help cover the costs of the installation, Freehold Borough has received $206,066 from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Board members also requested a capital reserve withdrawal in the amount of $130,000.

In addition to the bipolar ionizers, district officials purchased five Airmedic Pro 5 HD air purifiers in late September.

Tomazic wrote in his letter that the air purifiers have been received and set up to allow students in five special education self-contained classes to begin in-person learning on Nov. 16.

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