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UPDATED: Hatikvah Gets Variance To Expand

The charter school plans to renovate a warehouse on Lexington Avenue.

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."

Check back for updates on this story.

Anne July 06, 2012 at 12:36 PM
It seems I was lied to by the staff of the school. I was told that my daughter would start school at their new facility in September. I was told that the school attorney said at the hearing Hatikvah will not be opening at this new location in September. Can anyone verify this?
Stacy July 06, 2012 at 08:31 PM
As a parent of a Hatikvah student, I can attest that the school has had a steady stream of communication with parent meetings, open houses, and e-mail updates. Anyone can get whatever information they need by calling the Hatikvah school office to get the contact information for the Facilities Committee. They are the most able to answer any questions accurately, as opposed to any individual who may post responses to this forum.
Stacy July 06, 2012 at 09:06 PM
It doesn't say anything in the article that seems to indicate it will not be opening in September. Stacy is right - if you call the school office I am sure they will provide any available information. This forum has NOT been a reliable place for accurate information.
John Saccenti (Editor) July 06, 2012 at 09:24 PM
I've just updated the story. This is from spokesman Dan Gerstein: "We will work hard to make it as soon as possible on or close to the start of the school year."
Kelly July 07, 2012 at 01:44 AM
The most accurate way to obtain the information would be to call the township and ask what was stated at the zoning board meeting when Hatikvah representatives were under oath. Better yet, ask to see the minutes.
Deca July 07, 2012 at 04:20 AM
The next step for Hatikvah before it renovates (and mind you there is still a business in the warehouse now) is to get State permission for this lcation, which begins with a process at the County Superintendents office for an evaluation of suitability, and whose recommendations are sent to the NJ DOE for final approval. There is also the issue of negotiating the sale once the permission is granted. I think that the attorney's timeframe of next year was probably fair especially since the architect indicated a substantial part of phase 1 includes gutting part of the current interior.
Kevin Wyman July 07, 2012 at 12:10 PM
So East Brunswick now has to give up commercial space and potential tax revenue in order to house a school catering to mostly out-of-town students. "Inherent need"? I don't think so...
Anne July 07, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Stacy, were you at the zoning Board hearing? I was told that the attorney explicitly said that the school will not be opening there in September. What I really don't understand is why this type of information isn't on the school's website. Why not post an anticipated start date for construction, for example? Why do interested parents have to seek out committee members? Isn't this a public school?

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