School Facilities Recap
The Schools Construction Corporation was the entity charged with upgrading school facilities statewide several years ago, but it unfortunately burned through its budget before completing its roster of projects. After an investigation, a new entity was formed with promises of more accountability. That was the Schools Development Authority.
In Plainfield, to facilitate construction early on, the SCC purchased an office building at 1700 West Front Street to serve as a “swing school,” meaning as schools were emptied for renovations or new construction, the pupils would have a home there. The building was purchased for $6 million and it was renovated for school use at a cost of $19 million, according to state records.
The first swing school occupants were Clinton School, while $16,941,299 in renovations took place at the original site. Emerson School students relocated there while a new community school was built at a cost of $36,033,893. Both student populations have since moved into their new or improved locations.
At present, the building is occupied by Jefferson School students and the new Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies, a new grade 7-12 school admissible only by successful application, including auditions.
The former Jefferson School is now the district administration building, meaning Jefferson students cannot “swing” back to the site.
In addition, the swing school last year housed the alternative school now known as the Barack Obama Academy for Academic and Civic Development, now placed at the former Lincoln School on Berckman Street.
To make a long story short, there is no swing school or educational building location for the Cook School student population, listed on the district web site as having 268 pupils currently, to stay while the school receives $26,981,202 in additions and renovations funded by the SDA. So while awaiting a construction timetable from the state, school authorities are probing choices including shifting the Cook School students to Maxson or Woodland schools.
Both are nearby the Cook School neighborhood, although Woodland is an elementary school like Cook, while Maxson is a middle school.
In an innovation by Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III, Cook was designated to become a K-8 school instead of K-5. Details of the SDA plans call for a new student population of 400 students.
Originally, Woodland School was to receive renovations, but Cook was substituted to benefit, according to information on Assemblyman Jerry Green’s web site.
The big missing item in the schools construction story is a new middle school, a top priority before the SCC debacle. Properties were being purchased and deals made when the whole thing fell through several years ago. Unfortunately, a 44-block neighborhood revitalization project tied to the middle school proposal also failed.
Now that Superintendent Steve Gallon III has aggressively sought to recapture charter school students and those whose parents may have sought to remove their children after grade 6, it remains to be seen whether the district can make the best use of its physical facilities to accommodate the influx. In addition, if the middle school model is no longer optimum, the long-term facilities plan must reflect the new paradigm.