According to Superintendent of Schools Peter Fischbach, there were several factors that have forced the board to consider other alternatives for the inception of the new pre-school program.
"First, there were some difficulties with the acquisition of the properties, then there were problems with the demolition of the properties," Fischbach said. "When you combine the tough winter we've had with all the snow and rain, we realized that we are guaranteed to have a significant delay and there's no way that the building will be ready in time for the first day of school in September."
The Board of Education approved a plan last year that enabled the board to purchase nine homes in the general vicinity of the school, located on 64th Street between Durham and Smith Avenues.
The homes were then demolished in order to prepare for the three-story extension, which was set to be the central location for the entire 4-year-old program. However, a string of problems soon ensued.
First, after the demolition took place, it was learned that some of the homes had asbestos shingles, which were predominantly used in the 1950s, before the advent of aluminum siding. Back in the '50s, it was not known that asbestos would be the cause of serious health concerns, including cancer warnings. And instead of removing the asbestos shingles properly, it appears that contractors simply covered over the asbestos with aluminum siding. When demolition crews discovered that several of the homes had asbestos shingles in place, the state Department of Environmental Protection had to be informed so that the asbestos would be properly removed.
That wasn't the only environmental concern. Upon demolition of the homes, it was discovered that several had home-heating oil tanks situated below the ground - also an EPA warning signal.
"The land had to be leveled and totally cleared," Fischbach said. "It set us back a couple of months. But it was determined that the area was not contaminated or exposed to it."
When further work was set to commence, disaster struck again. Demolition crews somehow struck and cracked an existing water line. It was not determined whether it was regular water or wastewater.
"After they hit the pipe, they had to be very careful," Fischbach said. "And then, they had to re-direct the pipe. It was a lot of work."
However, all of those problems have been remedied. Still, the delays have set the project back significantly. "We can't have contractors building for 24 hours a day, just to get the building done," Fischbach said. "It will eventually be completed. We just don't have a timetable just yet. Just that we know that it won't be ready in time. Once the footing and the foundation is put in place, the rest can be quite easy, because it's a very straightforward building."
However, the contract for the construction work has still to be put up for bid. The bids were recently advertised, so prospective contractors can now submit official proposals for the building. Then, the Board of Education's architectural consultants, headed by Grace Lynch, will examine the proposals to determine the best one. Which means one thing: The entire project is still in the planning stage, just five months before its scheduled opening.
So, where does the Board of Education go?
Fischbach said that the board has already looked into the possibility of renting temporary trailers to act as classrooms for the program.
"We know that we will have enough room for the full-day kindergarten students," Fischbach said. "We're reviewing plans for temporary classrooms. But we have to have the 4-year-old program in place by September, so it will be in place. We just have to determine where we're going to put the students. We had hoped to put them all in this central location, but we may have to go in another direction now."
In the meantime, Fischbach has scheduled a special meeting to discuss the future of the pre-school program. The meeting will be held Wednesday evening, beginning at 7 p.m., in the high school auditorium.
"We're encouraging parents who are involved with the early childhood program to come to discuss what we're going to do," Fischbach said. "In terms of the process for registration and attendance for September."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who also serves as an assistant superintendent of schools, expressed his disappointment over the delay, considering that he was once the principal of Lincoln School.
"We were hoping to have it ready for the start of school next year, but now, that's not going to happen," Sacco said. "We ran into various problems that could not be avoided. Now, we have to find other means to house these students. We've been looking for a long time and now it's going to take longer. At least, we now know that the work will be done completely and done correctly."