Editor's Note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect plans on file in the East Brunswick Planning Department. Comment from Hatikvah spokesman Dan Gerstein also have been added. Those changes and others are highlighted below.
is planning to expand.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a variance Thursday evening that will allow Hatikvah it to renovate a 557,379-square-foot warehouse into a school. The building, 7 Lexington Ave., is located in a planned industrial zone and a variance is needed to open a school in the zone.
“This is an inherent need. Under zoning regulations it clearly is. It’s for education,” said board member Richard Klein.
The long-term plans call for converting the refrigerated warehouse into an 18-classroom, K-8 school with support offices, a gymnasium/recreation area, playground student drop off parking lot and a faculty/visitor parking lot.
Phase 1 includes building four new classrooms and renovating existing office space into an additional five classrooms—9 classrooms— to accommodate 190 students. It also includes plans to renovate the existing offices into space for administrators, a gymnasium and recreation area, a common area/cafe and a drop-off loop that will accommodate six buses with room for future expansion. There also are plans for a basketball court, playground, and a student drop off lot for parents.
The classrooms will be located along the walls of the warehouse so that windows can be put into each room.
Phase 2 of the plan calls for building the remainder of the classrooms at a rate of two per year (the school expects to add one new grade level every year) for a total student body of about 400 students. Phase 2 will see the addition of classrooms along the building’s Litchfield Road side, and the construction of girls and boys locker rooms, and music, art and science classrooms.
Hatikvah’s plan includes renovating parts of the parking lot, a new sidewalk, relocation of a parking lot, striping the stalls in the rear of the site, curbing, grading, drainage, landscape and lighting improvements.
Zoning board members insisted that Hatikvah return to the board by January 2015 to begin phase 2 and so that the board can reassess the building site.
"We will strive to be in the building as soon as possible," said Hatikvah spokesman Dan Gerstein. "We have received a preliminary estimate that construction will take between 6 and 8 weeks. Since we need proper permits and inspections it is somewhat difficult to determine the exact date of occupancy. We will work hard to make it as soon as possible on or close to the start of the school year."
Reassessing the site will come into play because of the difficulty in projecting student enrollment growth. Since it is a publicly funded charter School, Hatikvah’s enrollment will grow only according to the number of people who register, unlike East Brunswick public schools where student population grown is easier to determine.
Gerstein said that while the school and zoning board could not determine what the future enrollment would be, the school is currently full with a waiting list for every grade.
Some in attendance asked that the waiver not be issued because of the precedent it would set in allowing a school to be opened in an industrial zone. They also said the area might not be safe due to the nature of the neighboring businesses and it’s isolation from a “neighborhood.”
"When our town decided on zoning boundaries, it was done with very specific purposes in mind. It is no accident that all of our public schools are located in residential neighborhoods. Now, our zoning board will decide for our town, if we want to make an exception and grant a use variance that would set a new precedent in our town, of locating a tax-funded public elementary school in a commercial warehouse district," said resident Christina Rampolla.
Zoning board member David Rosenthal praised the application, saying it will be a good addition to the area.
“I’ve been to the site on multiple occasions and think this is a wonderful enhancement to the community, particularly to that neighborhood,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of Hatikvah, Marc Leber said the site was selected after an exhaustive search that included Route 18, the Movie City 5 shopping center, harts Lane and elsewhere.
“The board put a lot of thought into the best way to meet the different needs of the school and this was a very good fit for a range of needs,” said Gerstein. “It seemed like the best and obvious choice,, and we’ve been working very closely with the town and looking at lot of different issues. There was a lot of commentary from the board for working with the town and making adjustments of the plan and that was evident in the overwhelming support."
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