School Officials to Deal With ‘Area 5’ Influx In Time
With two developers having received local Planning Board approval for their respective Redevelopment Area 5 projects, concern over the potential impact on an already overcrowded school system is on the rise.
It’s been no secret that Fort Lee public schools have been overcrowded for quite some time, and the problem is only increasing. The Fort Lee Board of Education has seen two referendums that would have expanded the school system fail, and only on a third attempt did voters approve a significantly scaled-back version that included little new construction and relatively few additional classrooms.
But with two developers, Fort Lee Redevelopment Associates (FLRA) and Tucker Development Corporation, having received approval from the Fort Lee Planning Board to move forward with their development plans for the long-vacant, 16-acre plot of land known as Redevelopment Area 5, concerns over the potential impact on the local school system are on the increase as well.
The issue came up Monday at the Fort Lee Board of Education’s special public meeting, and school officials said that while the potential problem is indeed on their radar, they’re not ready to lay out a specific, detailed plan until the two development projects begin to take shape and a clearer picture of precisely how they will affect the school district begins to emerge.
“It’s my understanding next year that [Fort Lee School No. 1] is going to be approaching 700 students, and we have the approvals of Area 5 being developed,” said Fort Lee resident David Sarnoff Monday. “I would really like to know how the board is planning for the influx of these students and how it’s going to affect School 1 going forward.”
Sarnoff added, “What’s the plan? Are we going to wait until they’re built and then deal with it, or is there something in place to prepare us for this influx?”
School board president Arthur Levine, reminding people that the referendums that would have provided for the building of new school facilities was voted down in 2010, said school officials are preparing for the eventuality to the extent they can.
“The only way that we’re going to be able to deal with any significant influx is by leasing other facilities,” Levine said.
“Our only alternative is to seek alternative spaces where we can educate our children,” he added. “There are other sites that we are looking at currently that, in the event that the large influx does happen, we will have space for them.”
Northjersey.com recently reported on a "demographic report" revealing that four of Fort Lee’s six public schools are currently over-capacity, and that in five years, Fort Lee High School and Fort Lee School No. 2 will reach 99 percent capacity.
The report also indicated that the two development projects approved for Area 5—FLRA’s for the eastern half and Tucker’s for the western portion—are projected to bring in an additional 82 students to the school district.
“We are bursting at the seams at the schools,” Fort Lee resident Nina Levinson is quoted in the article as saying. “We will have two kids to a desk unless we build more schools. Building more schools is truly, truly expensive.”
Fort Lee School No. 4 PTA president Ada Garcia Monday reminded Interim Superintendent Steven Engravalle that at a meeting on March 21, parents raised similar concerns, specifically about School No. 1, where elementary students living in the development area would go as the district is currently configured.
Garcia paraphrased Engravalle from the meeting in March, saying, “If [development] hasn’t happened in 40 years, that site is never going to happen.”
“That’s exactly what I said, and the context was to talk about that we have many other pressing issues at this time,” Engravalle said. “We’ve done a demographic study. I’ve been in contact with our Mayor and Council to discuss the project itself.”
But Engravalle also said that until groundbreaking actually takes place on the property, which has in fact sat vacant for 46 years, and the district begins to get a clearer idea of how many school-aged children are actually going to move in, the district isn’t going to develop a set-in-stone plan.
“They’ve attempted, I’ve been told, numerous times to develop that property because it’s been referred to as the most valuable property on the East coast time and time again, and they haven’t been able to do it,” Engravalle said. “So I can’t worry that the sky might fall or that it might rain. I have to make sure that it’s going to take place. And once it does, then we’re going to talk about what’s the real [solution].”