School addition, improvements in Woodbridge are community effort

WOODBRIDGE — The groundbreaking for a new elementary school and an addition and renovations to a middle school signifies yet another multi-million dollar project in collaboration among Woodbridge municipal and school officials.

“We couldn’t have done it separately, only together,” Woodbridge School District Superintendent of Schools Robert Zega said. “This is an historic, cooperative effort. By doing things the way we do and financing the way we do in Woodbridge, we are the envy of the state.”

Zega joined Mayor John E. McCormac to announce the groundbreaking projects of Ross Street Elementary School No. 11 and Woodbridge Middle School on June 21.

Members of the Township Council; Board of Education; John Crowe, principal of Woodbridge Middle School; Tammy Giordano, principal of Ross Street School; students from both schools; Ken Karle, president of LAN Associates, the project architect for both schools; and other municipal and school officials were on hand for the announcement.

In March of 2017, voters overwhelmingly approved a $57.7 million bond referendum, which included the construction of a new $30 million Ross Street School and some $20 million in renovations and improvements to Woodbridge Middle School.

The two projects include innovative learning environments and adaptations to help educators boost student collaboration and ideas.

McCormac and Zega noted that the Ross Street School, the second oldest school in the district, was built in 1920.

The new three-story, 87,000-square-foot Ross Street school will be centered around a large atrium courtyard that will provide natural light and a connection to nature. The courtyard will house a small amphitheater for outdoor lessons, several “living learning” gardens and seating areas for reading and eating.

The school will promote break-out spaces and flexible learning environments for a variety of learning styles, while equipped with state-of-the-art photovoltaics combined with daylighting strategies to reduce overall energy consumption.

Construction of the school is anticipated to be finished for the start of the 2020 school year.

Renovations to Woodbridge Middle School, the oldest school building in the district, built in 1910, are centered upon creating a more advanced learning environment as well as additional improvements to the theater at the school. Improvements to the theater began several years ago, which has transformed the theater into a modern performing arts center which hosts community theater and musical productions.

The middle school renovation project will incorporate a design scheme that uses the existing structures and will include the construction of a new gymnasium and locker rooms, large music and vocal classrooms, six new science rooms, a creative commons area, a state-of-the-art production studio and renovated classrooms. Renovations are anticipated to be complete for the 2019 school year.

“We are standing today on hallowed ground, truly hallowed ground,” Crowe said of Woodbridge Middle School. “Since 1911, this building has been home to educators who have taught students in high school, junior high and middle school. And that will continue for another 100-plus years, but it’s going to continue in a far better way. It will be updated, it will have a beautiful addition, beautiful renovations so this glorious building will remain.”

McCormac said it is no secret municipal officials are working hard on the downtown in Woodbridge Proper.

“We have a tremendous asset many towns don’t have and that’s our downtown train station, and we are doing quite a few projects that will bring people downtown, people with incomes, people with money and spending ability to improve stores, improve our shops our restaurants, everything you can think of in downtown Woodbridge,” the mayor said, adding the last thing he wants Woodbridge Proper to turn into is a ghost town.

“You see our neighbors doing it. Metuchen just finished a tremendous project downtown, Edison is working on it, Westfield, Cranford, Rahway, you name it, everybody is and if we are going to compete with those towns for people and for economy then we’ve got to do the right thing. What’s going to set us apart from every other town is our schools, because right in the downtown we are going to go to have a brand new grammar school within walking distance from the train station and we are doing a major upgrade at Woodbridge Middle School,” he said.

McCormac said people who come into town and live in apartments tend to not have a lot of children, but when they do, officials want them to move out of the apartments and stay in the downtown because of the new school upgrades.

“This is a tremendous effort between the township and the school board,” he said. “Just like we paid for the school field improvements of the tracks, tennis courts and turf fields, the township will provide the improvements for Woodbridge Middle School and also improvements at Ross Street.

“The town is covering it with all the economic development activity. All the money we are going to get from the downtown developments, it makes sense to reinvest the money into the downtown schools,” he said.

McCormac said the plan works because municipal officials and school district administrators get along, which he said may not be the case in other municipalities.