This is part of the largest school construction project since the building of the high school in the mid-1970s, and required the passing of a $6.5 million bond last April.
The Huber Street School portion of the project is expected to cost $2.7 million, and the addition to Clarendon is set at $2.44 million. The remaining money from the $6.5 million will be dedicated to other capital improvements.
School officials said the cost of the project would be offset by a $2,316,180 state construction grant, part of the funding package signed into law by Gov. Christine Whitman late last fall.
"That equals about 37 percent of the project costs and that is the highest percentage for a school district in the state," said Board of Education member Paul Amico during an interview last week. "The money saved will go back into the municipality as tax relief."
The plans for both schools include new classrooms as well as upgrading science and computer labs, art and music rooms, and faculty and kitchen facilities. Roof repairs to Clarendon were done last fall under a separate contract.
Huber Street School started work first because the board awarded its contract first. The Clarendon School project - even though it eventually got awarded to the same contractor - had to go out to bid again after initial bids came in well above the projected costs.
Huber Street School is expected to be completed by Aug. 22; Clarendon may be finished by the end of 2001 if work starts within 30 days as projected.
Board President William Millevoi said student populations in both schools have been rising significantly since the early 1990s and that the expansion would absorb these increases as well as increases projected over the next four or five years. The expansion also allows the school district to send students to Huber Street who had been going to Clarendon School previously, thus equalizing the populations in the schools for the first time. Clarendon has 646 students this year, while Huber Street has only 388.
A cutback at Clarendon School
Amico, however, said the board had to cut back on the specifications for the Clarendon School project in order to come within the cost guidelines.
"This means we may not be able to construct the breezeway connecting the pre-K building with the rest of the school," Amico said. "Depending on how much the rest of the project costs, we may be able to get it done with the construction of this project. But we have to wait and see. Our biggest concern was to get the project started."
The construction of the breezeway would have allowed pre-K students to travel from their section of the school without going out of doors. Clarendon school is made up of a series of circular buildings or pods connected by breezeways or hallways. Last year, the schools reconstructed the former Board of Education offices into pre-K classrooms. This building was never connected to the rest of the school, and part of the upgrade plans initially called for making the connection. This would have cost $137,000, and involves cutting into a classroom in order to connect to the hall.
"There is a good chance that we might be able to get it done under the same contract, since it would involve the same contractor," Amico said. "We just can't say for sure until we see how much the rest of the project is going to cost."
At a special meeting held on Feb. 8, the board awarded a $2.44 million contract for construction of the Clarendon school expansion to Chanree Construction of Ortley Beach.
Groundbreaking ceremonies at Huber Street
On Feb. 10, Huber Street School Principal Pat Coccuci greeted the Saturday morning assembly of dignitaries at the groundbreaking, claiming all of them had committed themselves to "The growth development and welfare of our children." Schools Superintendent Constantino Scerbo recollected his own experiences in Huber Street when he first came to Secaucus as a teacher.
"I spoke for the first time from this very spot almost four decades ago," he said "My audience on that day was a group of fourth graders. Their teacher had left on maternity leave. I was appointed as her replacement."
His first classroom at the time became what is the school gymnasium today, and he recalled the various stages of reconstruction the school went through over the years. The first improvement made to the school came in 1959, when the combination gym, auditorium and lunchroom were constructed. In the mid-1960s, the gym was turned into temporary classrooms while classrooms were constructed in another part of the school. The last physical upgrade was done in 1983 when two more classrooms and an elevator were installed.
Scerbo said as a teacher in Huber Street School, he and the staff believed that every child could learn and that every child was unique and gifted, and though other people might see this as something left over from the 1960s, it has been a philosophy that has been carried over through the 1970, 1980, and 1990s in Secaucus.
Millevoi said his memories of Huber Street School were much more personal. He and his wife relocated to Secaucus several decades ago.
"We came here and liked what we saw. We researching the educational system and found it magnificent and second to none," he said.
Mayor Dennis Elwell said the groundbreaking insures the future of Secaucus' children. He said educational studies point to a number of important conditions for good education, such as early learning, proper tools and classroom size.
"These renovations in both schools, and some of the many serious decisions that will follow in the future will accomplish that," Elwell said. "No child should be educated in a makeshift room that uses filing cabinets or temporary walls as dividers."