Township council approves high school site

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    SPARTA-The township council will allow construction of a high school in Station Park, the latest site to be considered for the new school (see story on page 3). The proposed facility would be built behind the current high school in a small portion of township-owned land that overlaps into the park. Station Park is located off Rt. 517. One of the two options in Station Park presented to the board of education Tuesday night includes 16.4 acres in the northeast section that encroaches on two ball fields. The second option involves 11.5 acres in a nearby area of the park, which would not destroy any of the athletic fields. The council called the proposal a "win-win situation for everyone." It prefers to not have any of the ball fields affected. Neither of the designated sites addresses the Highlands legislation or New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Agency (DEP) wetlands regulations. "The experts from DEP, the township, and board of education have to sit down and discuss what needs to be done," said Thomas Morton, Sparta schools superintendent. "I would hope this would be done quickly, at the same time in front of everyone so that everyone hears the same thing." The council decision comes after some behind-the-scenes maneuvering by a small group of board of education and township council members. "If this can be worked out n there are sewers on the site, it's in the center of town n all these things are good things," said Morton. "Let's move forward and see what happens." Morton said the board of education has submitted an application for up to $15 million in state funding to start the process. He said the school district is on the Department of Education docket, but that the state may not grant approval for at least six months. The board of education most recently had intended to build the high school on township-owned property off White Lake Road. The school board wants to build a new school to ease overcrowding as the student population grows. The township council agreed to a November referendum that would ask Sparta residents whether they want to leave open the possibility to build the new $65 million high school on the 59.7 acres of land about a quarter-mile behind the Sparta Car Wash off Route 15. If voters pass the measure, they would face a second referendum in December asking them to approve funding for construction. Morton had insisted that separate referendums in November and December would eliminate any chance for the district to receive state aid for construction. The planning board had recommended the council reject the school board's request to put the White Lake property — purchased with tax funds in 2001 and designated for open space or use as recreational fields — up for public referendum. In April, proponents of acquiring the White Lake property for a new school had presented the council with a 1,154-signature petition. Sparta education officials project that in September, 370 current eighth-graders will replace this year's high school class of 220 seniors. Even taking into account the average annual student attrition from eighth to ninth grade, an additional 140 freshman will fill an already burdened high school, Morton said. The projected cost of the new school has escalated to $65 million, not the $53 million originally projected almost a year ago, Morton said almost two month ago.