METUCHEN — After a report by a professional demographer, the Board of Education will continue to closely monitor the population growth in the district.
Board member Ben Small, who chairs the board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, said they brought in a demographer to help the board figure out whether or not to keep the status quo of making no changes to the district’s four buildings, adding onto the existing buildings and/or building a brand new middle school.
“We live in a tiny postage stamped space … we don’t have corn fields to turn into new development,” he said.
With continued chatter about the new development in the downtown area, Small said it was prudent for the board to seek outside expertise on how to move forward in addressing the district’s physical capabilities of potential expansion and zoning for additional space at the district’s four building locations.
The board had conducted an in house demography study, which saw class size increases in Campbell Elementary School, which moved to Edgar Middle School.
Small said a professional demography study is now done and found that the district does not have an imminent problem due to population growth and has room to grow.
He said three things stood out in the study.
“[Schools Superintendent Vincent] Caputo, [School Business Administrator Michael] Harvier and the building principals know the facilities better than anyone and what the maximum capacity of students would be [in each building],” Small said.
Richard Grip, executive director of Statistical Forecasting, LLC, presented his findings before the board at a meeting in December. He said the housing resale market is the likely cause of the increase of students within the Metuchen Public School District each year not so much the new development in the borough.
Caputo said Grip was brought in last spring to study the future trends and population growth in the Metuchen schools.
The study was completed in August for the 2016-17 school year.
Grip said the purpose of the study was to project grade-by-grade enrollments of a 10 year period from 2017-18 through 2026-27 school year; analyze district’s historical enrollments; birth and fertility rates and community population trends and age structure; and the impact of new developments on enrollment.
To do this, Grip looked at Metuchen’s demographic profile.
Grip said the borough’s population has grown from 13,574 in 2010 to 13,800 in 2015. The population was at its peak in the 1970s and has declined since.
The borough’s population is predominately Caucasian at 78 percent in 2010 followed by Asians at 13 percent. The median age in the borough is 41.1 years.
Twenty percent of the borough’s population is foreign born. Grip said India is the largest source of that percentage.
Metuchen is an educated community with 61 percent of its population earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median annual family income is $132,000.
Grip said there are 5,200 housing units of which 78 percent are one-unit homes in the borough.
“Approximately 22 percent of housing units are renter occupied, which is pretty big,” he said. “There’s a tendency for renter occupants to move and migrate in and out frequently, which could wreak havoc on student population.”
Grip said Metuchen has 1,362 homes, many of which have been built in the 1960s. Those built in 2010 or later were close to 300 homes.
He said sales of homes peaked in 2004 with 272 home sales, in 2005 that number dropped to 125. In 2010, the home sales went up to 229 and there were 226 home sales in 2016.
The district’s 2016-17 enrollment was 2,233 students at the completion of the study in August 2017.
Enrollment has increased in each of the last nine years, a gain of 10 percent of students since the 2007-08 school year.
Grip said despite the enrollment increase there has been a substantial drop in birth counts in Metuchen — 201 births in 2004 as compared to 140 in 2015.
He said the drop is telling him more parents are moving into the community with kids born somewhere else.
“Families are moving in with kids in the 2 to 4 age range and eventually [the kids] are showing up on the district’s Kindergarten doorstep,” he said.
For the demography study, Grip looked at three large housing units that are being planned in the borough.
Woodmont Metro at Metuchen Station located at 55 and 99 New St. There are 273 proposed units for the entire development.
The housing type units are 232 market rate apartments and 41 affordable apartments with one, two, and three bedrooms proposed.
Grip said temporary certificates of occupancy have been issued at 99 New St., which will have 162 units and 55 New Street, which will have 111 units.
The second development is the District at Metuchen located at 660 Middlesex Ave. near Whole Foods Market. There are 80 units of market and affordable apartments proposed.
The apartments include 50 one bedroom, 27 two-bedroom and three, three-bedroom residential units. Seventy-four units will be market-rate and six units will be affordable.
The third development is Hillside Metuchen, which is proposed to have 19 unit apartments at market rate. There are nine, one-bedroom and 10 two-bedroom units proposed.
The total student yield projected from the three proposed developments is 39 public school children. Woodmont Metro with 19 school children projected, District at Metuchen with 16 school children and Hillside Metuchen is projected to have four school children.
Grip said if he took an aggressive outlook, the Metuchen Public School District would see an increase of 143 students in 10 years. A more conservative number would be 50 students, he said.
“The district’s historical enrollment gains have not been uniform,” he said. “Most [of the gains] were at the middle school level.”
Grip said while birth rates in the borough has been declining, positive inward migration should offest the declines to stabilize elementary enrollments.
Board President Dan Benderly said positive migration and being attractive is a good problem to have to deal with.
“This is a great place to live and we will continue the prime objective on how to provide a good education for the kids,” he said adding that it’s important to not rush into any decision and continue to examine and monitor the student population growth in the district.