First Step Taken By BOE To Use Middlebush School As Pre-School Center

EXPLAINING THE PLAN – Schools Superintendent John Ravally explains the plan to use the former Middlebush School as a pre-school center to offer universal, free, pre-school to District children.

The Board of Education on February 22 took the first step in reclaiming the former Middlebush School building as a school.

The Board agreed to give district administrators the authority to negotiate a lease with the Township that could lead to using the former school building as a pre-school center for 3- and 4-year olds.

If everything goes as currently sketched out, the building could be used in time for the 2026-2027 school year, said schools Superintendent John Ravally.

The Township took possession of the nearly 100-year-old Middlebush School building through a 2018 land swap with the school district, through which the District gained three buildings on the former Consolata Missionaries property on Route 27. District offices have been housed in the Consolata main building for the last several years.

Ravally told the Board that using the Middlebush building as a pre-school center would allow the District to offer true universal, free, pre-Kindergarten education for all of the township’s 3- and 4-year olds.

Ravally said the building could house roughly 240 students, which would “allow us to offer programming to all families who want to send their 3- or 4-year-old to a full day pre-Kindergarten program. That will be our first opportunity to do that since we set out to do this seven years ago.”

“The 240 is a rough number,” he said. “Another 250-300 seats really gets us to what our full universe is.

He said the Pre-K program has grown from about 100 students seven years ago to 731 students now.

“Space-wise, we’re at capacity,” he said. “We’ve also entered partnerships with private providers, which has offered opportunities for students to have seats, as well. And those programs are under our guidance, using our curriculum. We still have, if we’re going to get to a true universal program, the need for a couple hundred more seats for our students.”

“So this is the solution that will get us, In a few short years, to a universal Pre-K 3 and 4 program,” Ravally said.

Ravally said the lease would be paid for with a state grant – Pre-School Education Aid – that would allow a yearly payment of up to $1 million.

He said the building could accommodate 16 classrooms, which would be space enough for roughly 240 students.

Terms of the deal haven’t been sorted out yet, but Ravally said that generally, the Township, as the building’s owner, would be responsible for its renovation.

Ravally said the District has about $3.5 million in pre-school grants that it hasn’t been able to use because it couldn’t find a location which could be put in escrow “and allow the Township to start drawing from (it) to help support some of those renovations, and the district can pay … within the structure of the grant, up to about $1 million per year in subsequent years of the lease.”

The lease would. probably be for a 15- to 20-year term, he said.

Ravally said the next step will be the District administrators and attorneys meeting with Township Manager Robert Vornlocker and Township attorneys to strike a lease deal.

The Board and Township Council would then both have to approve the lease, he said.

The building could be occupied by the Fall of 2026, Ravally said.

The plan was welcomed by Board members.

“The township getting $1 million is huge … and our kids are getting more educated,” Board member Sami Shaban said.

Board member Bill Grippo said the pre-school center is a good idea because it would get township kids in township schools at an early age, and would make the transition into Kindergarten less traumatic than if the students had never set foot in a classroom.

“For me, the reason why this is so important is that … we get our children in the school district at a very early age,” he said. “And for learning, getting children in at age 3 and 4 develops the root structure … much earlier, much healthier.”

Middlebush School was built in 1926, and was used as a school until 1979, three years after the auditorium ceiling collapsed.

The building housed District offices until several years ago, when the move was made to the former Consolata property.

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