By Jay Cook |
OCEANPORT – The former Commvault building will be the location of a new, $30 million complex for Oceanport and Sea Bright students, following a decision by the Oceanport Board of Education.
Over 200 parents and residents packed the auditorium at Wolf Hill Elementary School on Jan. 24 for a presentation on three options addressing vast upgrades to Oceanport’s two aging schools. The board floated two other possibilities and at the conclusion of a three-hour meeting went with the choice members said was the most reasonable.
“My opinion is that for longterm value, it’s an easy decision,” said board member Michael Murphy. “It’s just a matter of ‘will the community embrace it?’ ”
Located at 2 Crescent Place at the Monmouth Park Corporate Center, the 110,000-square-foot building was once home to Commvault, a data protection firm which opened in Oceanport in 1996 and left in 2014 for a Tinton Falls property on Fort Monmouth. The building is neighbored by and currently connected to an RWJ Barnabas business office.
Many factors played into the board’s decision to choose the ex-Commvault property – the ability to create with a clean slate, no interruption to students during construction and significant space to expand the premises if needed in the future.
According to JBA Architecture’s Bill Pappalardo, the architect retained to design the school, the Commvault property can meet Oceanport’s needs. It will be a pre-K through eighth-grade facility with separate entrances for the two schools, Wolf Hill Elementary School and Maple Place School, the district’s middle school. The facility would have state-of-the-art classrooms and STEM laboratories, a new gymnasium and new cafeteria, several secure playgrounds and access to numerous playing fields.
“There’s things that you don’t have that your neighboring districts do have,” Pappalardo said, adding that Oceanport is “a little behind the curve.”
The Oceanport School District has until March 29 to file site plans, cost estimates and demographic studies to the state Department of Education for ultimate approvals.
The project will be financed through a $30 million bond over a 30-year period set to be on the ballot for a special referendum on Oct. 2. Taxes would raise significantly for Oceanport residents, and Sea Bright – the lone sending district to Oceanport schools – would see a slight uptick. The average Oceanport homeowner with a home value of $447,654 would pay an additional $569.70 per year to cover the project cost. For the average Sea Bright resident with a home assessed at $511,023, their increase would be $67.93 annually.
The district’s Board of Education has been researching for the past three years options to upgrade its two schools. Wolf Hill Elementary School, which services kindergarten through fourth-grade students, is 107 years old. Maple Place School, the district’s middle school for fifth-grade through eighth-grade students, was built in 1966.
It was revealed during the presentation, and to the chagrin of many parents in attendance, that both schools provide limited security and accessibility to their student body. There are no fire-preventive sprinkler systems, Department of Homeland Security-approved intruder protective entrances or ADA-compliant features in either Wolf Hill Elementary School or Maple Place School.
“The fact that we don’t have sprinkler systems in these schools that are appropriate is appalling,” Oceanport resident Paul Hester said. “That needs to be fixed. We need to stop worrying about $30 million and just fix the schools.”
The Board of Education decided to look past the two other options for various reasons. Option No. 1 was to build a brand-new Wolf Hill Elementary School immediately next to the current one at 29 Wolfhill Ave. and make Band-Aid fixes to Maple Place School. It would have kept the small-town feel, but the improvements to Maple Place School would only last about two decades, Pappalardo said. More funding would be needed in the future.
Option No. 2 was to build a two-story, pre-K through eighth-grade school on two possible locations on Fort Monmouth. That was not picked due to uncertainties with the bidding process necessary through the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), multiple levels of permitting and having to swap land and redistrict with Eatontown.
Although there was a mixed bag of opinions, many residents felt the Commvault property was the best choice.
“We will see children playing and enjoying their new school,” said Tara Sweeney, an Oceanport parent. “It doesn’t matter where they are. It’s the teachers who are making our schools as special as they are.”
“Oceanport kids deserve a new school,” said Catherine Kramer, a fourth-grade student at Wolf Hill Elementary.
Kramer said the school suffers from, among many things, a leaky roof, small rooms and accessibility issues.
“Our school is not handicap accessible,” she said. “If someone breaks a leg or another body part they have to move classrooms.”
The project did have its fair share of opposition. Kim Vaughan, the Oceanport PTO president, pushed for the first option which would keep the schools where they are. She said having students walk and ride bikes to school is an integral part of the community.
“Many people move back to this town because of the experience they had growing up here, going to both Wolf Hill and Maple Place schools,” she said. “I feel that our children deserve the chance to make the same memories.”
Roseann Letson was skeptical about having a new school built next to an office with adults.
“Frankly, I don’t understand why a lot of members of the community with small children aren’t concerned about putting a school building next to an office building where adults are all day long at work while the kids are going to be at school,” Letson said.
Pappalardo said the space connecting RWJ Barnabas to the school building would be demolished and paved into a roadway, created a 35-foot buffer. Four-to 8-foot-high fencing would also be placed around the school premises, he said.
Some Oceanport residents also suggested significant flooding along Crescent Place should be investigated more. But the general consensus on the board remained the same – repurpose the Commvault building.
“If we make Commvault a pre-K through eight, we can make it a small town. It’s just a school in a different area,” said BOE member Lisa Harvey. “I think we need to wrap our heads around that.”
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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