The Cranbury School District administration is still confident that all of the proposed referendum projects will be constructed.
Jennifer Diszler, Cranbury School chief administrator and principal, reiterated that confidence when speaking to parents, staff and Cranbury Township community members during a Cranbury School Town Hall on Nov. 28.
“We are in a good place in the sense that we can still do our projects,” she said. “We just have to prioritize a little different and be mindful of the costs and the expanse of those Phase II pieces.”
The school district is currently in negotiations with contractors after multiple bids were all rejected by the school board for being over the budgeted cost of the projects.
For the referendum projects, the district had gone out to bid three times.
Cranbury approved a close to $18.5 million referendum for facilities renovation and improvement projects in December 2021.
The projects were put into two phases.
The first phase is academic commons (makerspace and flex learning spaces), which the public will also be able to reserve space for in the evening; main office and nurse’s office; kitchen and cafeteria; performing arts center; STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) lab; supervisors suite and business office; and the parking lot and the courtyard off of the cafeteria.
A second phase consists of science classroom renovations and lockers projects.
“The science classrooms we knew that we could do a simple remodel, but we also thought there could be some other ideas. So, depending on how we did with the first phase it was going to give us insight to do the second phase,” Diszler added.
“Also, the lockers we learned we learned a little bit more about asbestos in old buildings like ours. That project itself is a little bigger than we thought.”
To date the school district has spent $1.71 million, which has gone to architect costs, financial advisory, bond counsel, different studies (environmental, safety, and traffic) and abatement.
“We have about $16.7 million to continue to do the actual work,” Diszler said.
When the district first went out bid for the projects the school board rejected all of them, because they were $8 million over the price of the project.
“Now remember we have two phases, so we were expecting the first phase to cost anywhere from $14 million to $15 million,” Diszler noted. “We wanted it less than that, but we were trying to be reasonable knowing what’s out there and the cost of things.”
When the district went back to the drawing board significant changes were made to the bid specification. One of the biggest changes was keeping the existing auditorium square footage the same or smaller for the space that will be turned into the new performing arts center and in a separate space that will become the school’s academic commons.
With the rebids that followed they were still $3 million over the project budget following the changes.
The school district went out to bid a second time with same revised bid specifications.
The school district could not make any more revisions if it wanted to have everything planned with the referendum projects.
The school board rejected all the bids again because the project bids received were still higher than the $16.7 million the district has from the referendum.
Now the school district is in negotiations with contractors in the hopes of reducing the costs to get a contractor within budget.
“We have to keep in mind there is the Phase II piece,” Diszler said. “We need to keep in mind the science classrooms, lockers and we have money that needs to be spent on furniture and some technology.”