If you’re driving around Fort Lee over the next couple of months and happen to pass one of the borough’s public schools, it’s likely you’ll see a lot of activity you wouldn’t normally see during the summer.
That’s because construction and repair work in January, when the Fort Lee Board of Education held its third referendum since September 2010—a scaled-back, roughly $30 million version of what was initially proposed—has begun.
In fact, it got started in earnest at all but one of Fort Lee’s public schools—, which was not included in the referendum—as soon as school got out for the summer.
And according to the school district’s business administrator, this summer’s work, which will knock off about half of the 16 total projects approved when the referendum passed, is on track to be completed by the time school opens on Sept. 10, a week later than usual because of the construction and made possible by the district not using any snow days last year or having a February break.
Cheryl Balletto gave a presentation at Monday’s school board meeting and provided a detailed progress report in an interview with Patch later in the week outlining what’s been accomplished to date.
She said eight of the 16 projects included in the referendum are “on target for us to be able to open school on Sept. 10,” reporting the progress on those projects as follows:
The old boilers have been removed, and school officials expect delivery of new boilers by the end of this week or early next. In addition, every classroom slated to get new unit ventilators have had the existing ones removed.
Renovating the former central office space and converting it into four new classrooms has started.
“We had a lot of asbestos removal at School 1 for that project,” Balletto said. “It’s all been removed. We got a passing mark from the state as well as the monitors that it was all removed properly.”
She said that work couldn’t start until June 22, when school got out and people could be restricted from the building, and that the contractor got it done in about a week.
“They’ve already come in and done demolition and put up the framing for all four classrooms,” Balletto added. “Students will be sitting in those classrooms on Sept. 10.”
“Normally the town runs a recreational camp, and normally they use School 1, but this year obviously they can’t because of the construction work so we let them use School No. 3 instead,” Balletto said. “What they’ve done so far is just remove the fence because the kids are using the back of the school to play and obviously in the building.”
She added that once the summer program is over at the school, workers will start in on masonry work on the building.
Workers have started in the back lot, doing some brick re-pointing and power washing to get the old grout out, according to Balletto.
The old boilers have been removed, and four new modular ones, which are much smaller, have been put in place. Balletto said the new boilers should prove to be “much more efficient” in part because “you don’t have to run all of them at one time.”
Masonry work on the building’s iconic clock tower is “in the process of being done,” Balletto said.
“They’ve already mobilized; they’ve already been up there,” she said. “It’s amazing how fast they work.”
The pillars in front of the school have also been repaired; they just need to be painted, Balletto said Monday, and at the entrance to the cafeteria, the old bricks are being removed, and workers have started putting new bricks in.
In addition, air conditioning in the high school auditorium is being installed, which is why Monday’s meeting was held in the high school library.
“The vent has been delivered, and they’ve already started to demolish some of the ceiling to be able to put it in,” Balletto said.
All told, the work planned for this summer includes masonry work at the high school, School No. 3 and School No. 4; HVAC upgrades at the high school; boiler replacement at the middle school and School No. 1; and roof replacement at School No. 1 and the middle school.
Although those projects taken together represent half of the total projects called for in the referendum, Balletto said it will still take three summers to get everything done because some of the projects not planned for this summer are “much more time-consuming.”
She cited the middle school addition and new science labs at the middle school and high school as examples.
“We can’t put all the labs out of commission,” Balletto explained. “We still have to teach kids, and we have nowhere else to put them. So we might have to juggle that between two years.”
As for the selling of bonds to pay for the work, Balletto said school officials anticipate that will happen at the end of July or the beginning of August, and that she hopes to be able to announce details at the next school board meeting on July 23 after consulting with the district’s bond counsel.