Students return back to Pinelands Regional High School

Students return to Pinelands Regional High School which has been closed since October months of split sessions at the nearby junior high due to a roof project gone wrong. Wednesday was the students first day back. Jan, 17, 2017 (Craig Matthews / Staff Photographer)

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Pinelands Regional High School may not open in the fall, pending state approval, as a $53 million rehabilitation project continues in the district.

The seventh- to 12th-grade district hopes to keep the high school building closed for the 2018-19 school year as it begins another phase of the project that, this year, already closed the building for three months, acting Superintendent Cheryl Stevenson said Monday.

The district’s plans include having 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade students attend classes at the junior high school across the street.

“Unfortunately, we are all going to have to make some sacrifices, and I am certain that the administration team will be sure to have all those activities that our seniors enjoy in place in one form or another to make sure that they do have a great senior year,” said Pinelands Board of Education President Susan Ernst.

At its March 5 meeting, the school board approved the use of 10 temporary trailer classrooms at the junior high. The following meeting, the board approved a shared-services agreement with the Little Egg Harbor School District to send some students — likely seventh-graders — to the Frog Pond Elementary School. Stevenson said a former alternative school building across the street can house 40 students.

“Nothing truly is finalized yet because the (New Jersey) Department of Education has to accept the approval,” Stevenson said. “We’ve done all of those steps.”

Stevenson said she hopes to hear from the state on the district’s proposal before the end of May.

The news comes two months after Pinelands students returned to the high school building following three months of split sessions at the junior high. The district decided to close the high school in October after concerns arose about student exposure from the ongoing roof rehabilitation.

Since the closing of the high school this year, the district administration has been grappling with how to approach the project. Plans originally called for some work to be done while students were in school, but Stevenson said that will not happen now.

Ernst, of Little Egg Harbor Township, said the district has learned from past mistakes.

“We’re not going to risk putting kids in that school during construction,” she said.

Ernst said that despite the students having to share a space next year, she wants to avoid split sessions at all costs.

“No matter what, you try to cram a full day’s worth of education into four hours ... somebody loses,” Ernst said. “Educationally, we realize it’s not the best-case scenario.”

Because of the issues encountered this year, the phasing of the project will also shift, said Ernst, who sits on the construction subcommittee. She said some of the work planned at the junior high will be pushed back to make sure the building opens on time this fall.

Stevenson said the district hopes to have work on the high school gym completed by December so winter sports can be played there. She said work on the football field and track, which starts this school year, will cause the football games to be relocated.

“We’re still kind of working those things out,” Stevenson said.

She expects the high school to reopen in fall 2019.

Due to the work on the football field, this year’s graduation will be relocated, but Stevenson expects the field to be ready for 2019 graduation.

The district also hired a new construction management company at its March 5 meeting. Epic Construction replaces New Road Construction, which resigned from the project.

Garrison Architects remains a part of the project.

Remaining portions of the project at the high school include exterior doors and windows replacement, exterior brick repairs, new HVAC systems, bathroom renovations, and library and main entrance renovations.

Contact: 609-272-7251 Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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