Growth a pain in the hallways at Kingsway Regional School District

Monday, February 15, 2010
By Deena DiBacco

WOOLWICH TWP. From the outside, Kingsway Regional school campus seems massive. But inside the halls of Kingsway High School and Middle School, things are cramped - and they'll only get worse.

The simple act of getting to class on time is becoming a mission. And if the necessary changes aren't made, making it to math class will soon become a survival-of-the-fittest exhibition.

A conceptual plan for change, formed by district administration with Garrison Architects of Mt. Laurel, has been submitted to the state and is awaiting approval or disapproval. School officials said an answer is anticipated sometime in early March.

The plans aim to build additions on both schools, a process that school officials said would be realistic only if the state is able to provide some district funding through a grant. If the application is approved, a request for a referendum would be the district's next step.

Application approval still wouldn't grant permission for a referendum. And no referendum to vote on means no action can be taken. So all Kingsway can do now is wait and see if the ball starts rolling in March.

According to a demographic study done on Kingsway High School and Middle School in October 2009, research showed that student bodies were growing so rapidly that maximum capacity issues would soon arise.

The middle school currently houses 721 students, and that number is quickly approaching the building maximum capacity of 800. The study concluded that by 2014, their enrollment will hit 1,124 pupils. Right now, even being under capacity is an issue - no more than one full class fits into the gym or cafeteria.

And the high school study fared even worse. The building capacity, 1,493, is being exceeded every day. They are already educating just over 1,500 students. Lack of space has forced the auditorium and cafeteria to act as study halls, art rooms and science labs as homerooms. And no place on premises can hold the entire student body - not even the gymnasium. By 2014, it's estimated they'll be up to 2,041 students.

The waiting hasn't been easy for Kingsway High School students, one of whom said he has a scar on the back of his neck from scuffling with another student, a fight that began after they bumped into each other in the crowded halls.

If they're not getting into fights, a student said, they're getting to class late. The five minutes between classes has become an insufficient amount of time to get from class to class, thanks to hallway congestion.

Superintendent Ave Altersitz said Kingsway's special education population is also growing. The multiply handicapped program had four students in 2006 and next year it will house 26. Families are moving to the area just for the school districts and their programs, Altersitz said.

"With that comes the need for facilities, teachers and aides," said Altersitz.

School Board President Mark Kehoe said if the problem is ignored, schools will end up facing a substantially greater problem than the one at hand the need to build not just an addition, but another school in the future.

"The situation is we have a student population that, in the immediate future, is going to be straining our current facilities," said Kehoe. "But we have a plan that'll allow us to build on site."

The plan proposes to add two to three additions on each school.

Since adding stairs and building up was not an option, as the schools' infrastructures were not built to support more than one level, the proposed plan focuses on building out.

If the plans are approved, it would be the last time Kingsway could ever expand their current facilities. Limited land availability will allow for this one last project, and no more. No matter what, Kehoe said this last bandage fix won't solve the underlying issue in the district.

"This is the reality," he said. "These kids are already in the pipeline and we have a plan that'll allow us to build on site and buy us some time until more difficult decisions about building new facilities must be made."

But, according to Kehoe, building an entirely new school right now is a goal that doesn't make as much sense as the additions do - the current plan is the most economically efficient and, timewise, makes the most sense.

The plan was only created as a five-year projection, which is the longest time frame a district is allowed to consider when submitting plans to the state.

"You're going to have to make a difficult decision to build another school, and all the municipalities will have to come together and get to a solution," said Kingsway Regional High School Principal Paul Bracciante.


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