Leslie Murray
The Chronicle
October 31, 2008

Although the Cranford school district can handle an increase in enrollment next year of up to two percent, officials are continuing to investigate ways to handle the growing student body, including expansion of some of the district’s facilities.

During the October 27 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Gayle Carrick reported that she and Business Administrator Robert Carfagno had recently visited the Orange Avenue building, which had formerly housed Solomon Schechter Day School. Solomon Schechter had announced earlier this year that they would close the Cranford campus as enrollment dropped in favor of consolidating to the Essex County campus.

Carrick went on to explain that she and Carfagno had met with the realtor for the school on the last day that offers of interest were being accepted on the building. While Carrick and Carfagno submitted a proposal of interest, they stressed that no bid for the building was submitted.

“The school itself was in fairly good condition,” Carrick said, reporting on the structure.

She added that other groups had expressed interest in the site according to the realtor.

According to Carrick, an ongoing demographic study, which is tracking the current number and future enrollment trends, needs to be completed before concrete plans about future student body growth, can be announced.

“Right now we don’t even have enough information to make a determination as to if we need to expand our facilities,” Carrick said.

“We can make due next year . . . if enrollment increased by one or two percent,” Carrick added.

Speaking about the demographic study, Carfagno said that district officials expect to have an initial report in November. The study would be released to the public after the results are presented to the Board of Education.

Commenting on the former Schechter school, he added that the district would have to make renovations in order for the building to meet public school standards.

In looking into the process, board member Camille Widdows asked which option would be less expensive, renovating an existing facility or building a new addition.

Carrick responded that while she could not speak to this specific project, it is often “more cost effective t build an addition than to renovate.”

Addressing the board, resident Krista Swanson said as the mother of students at Brookside Place School she was especially concerned about class sizes in the coming years.

Carrick said that in dealing with a growing enrollment district wide, and state mandates in program offerings, Cranford would have to be creative in planning for the future.

Adding to the comment, board member Michael Caulfield said that parents need to vote on the annual school budget so that district plans can move forward.

Issues such as development proposals throughout the township need to be a concern for parents and board members alike, he added.

Speaking specifically on a proposal from The S. Hekemian Group to build over 400 units on Birchwood Avenue, which he termed “a ludicrous proposal,” Caulfield said the development would overtax the school system if it was to become a reality.

“We have to be aware of (development proposals) and say ‘this is not going to happen,’” Caulfield said.