Sparta school officials mull costs of Station Park site

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:50

    SPARTA-After months of wrangling and scrambling to find a suitable location for a new high school, the board of education is now getting to the nuts and bolds of the mater and finding out buidling a new school may cost more than previously estimated. The board met in an emergency closed session Tuesday night to review costs and land options in Station Park, where township officials hope to construct a new high school to accommodate the district's growing student enrollment. The school board is working with its architectural firm to develop design and cost estimates for the proposed high school on a site adjacent to the current facility, as well as several other sites that have been under consideration in recent months. Preliminary estimates for a school on the Station Park property are higher than anticipated due to extensive site work required by the location, said school board president David Slavin. The board is now reviewing the plans to determine how they can be revised to bring the cost down. The land, which comprises soccer fields No. 1 and No. 2 in Station Park, and the high school's softball fields, could be subject to the state Highlands Preservation Act and wetlands regulations. The board of education has already submitted an initial application to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and is awaiting a determination. School board member Rich Sullivan said architects are working to define a site for building the new school while respecting the buffer zones designated by DEP. He said the architects have had to submit "piece meal" information to the state because firm boundaries for the new building have not been established. "Everyone is doing as much as they can as quickly as they can," he said. "Unfortunately, there are things we can't control and we just have to wait for an answer." If DEP denies the application due to environmental restrictions, the board will have to pursue another piece of land, said Slavin. "If we've learned anything over the past year, it's to keep our options open," said schools superintendent Thomas Morton, who learned of the closed session board meeting late and was not in attendance. "We are extremely hopeful that DEP will approve this property for building, but we will consider other properties and options if the environmental approvals don't come in." Sullivan did not rule out returning to the White Lake Road site, where the board of education most recently had intended to build the high school on township-owned property. The township council had agreed to provide the property after a November referendum that would ask Sparta residents for their approval. "White Lake Road is still an alternative site rather than a primary site at this point," said Sullivan. "It always has to stay open as a possibility. We can't dismiss it until we have a better site." If voters pass a measure approving a location for the new high school, they would face a second referendum in December asking them to allocate funding for construction. In the meantime, the board of education is hoping to gain millions in construction aid from the state to offset the cost of the building the new school. The cost for a new school has escalated to $65 million, not the $53 million originally projected when the pursuit of land began a year ago, said Morton.