Sparta school board continues search for high school site

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    SPARTA-Sparta education officials are continuing the search for a suitable site to build a new high school. On Monday, Feb. 14, they met for more than five hours in closed session but there was no official word if they any closer to finding a location. As required by law, any site identified will need to meet state Department of Environmental Protection regulations, which have been a stickling point for the board of education in the past. Thomas Morton, schools superintendent and the board of education had first envisioned the proposed $54 million new school on a 102-acre property off Woodport Road near the center of town. Board members abandoned their pursuit earlier this year to condemn 60 acres of the property after learning its environmentally protected streams and tributaries of the Wallkill River would prohibit construction on the land. The school board has come under criticism from some Sparta council members and a number of residents during the process of finding an appropriate site to address the township's increasing student population. Sparta officials project that this year's high school class of 240 senior students will be replaced by 370 current eighth-graders. A new high school will house 1,500 students beginning in September 2008, and allow for reconfiguration of the existing 50-year-old facility into an elementary school, school officials said. "Our enrollment issues aren't going to go away," said Morton. "They are here to stay. There's an explosion of kids at the high school and elementary schools. If we build a new high school, we have enough flexibility to take care of enrollment needs for the next 20 years." Morton has said the board is eager to move ahead with its plans for a new high school so that the township can qualify for about $12-15 million in state aid. School board president David Slavin has said the board has until July to finalize plans to secure funding with the state. The cost for building a new high school will then be put before voters in a September referendum. Last year, Sparta voters turned down a referendum that called for construction of a new elementary school. In June, a committee appointed by the board recommended plans for a new high school. The school board will meet again to discuss the issue, March 14.