Cranford residents leery of ‘reimagining’ plans

Cranford schools Superintendent Scott Rubin outlined more detailed results of the district’s ‘reimangining’ plan survey of parents and township residents at the June 24 board of education meeting.

CRANFORD, NJ — Detailed results from a survey regarding the potential “reimagining” of the school system revealed that more than 60 percent of residents say the proposed plans do not account for any impact of a potential 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave.

The survey was available from April 26 through May 13, and solicited input from more than 1,800 households. More than half of those surveyed, however, do not have children that currently attend Cranford schools, according to the results, which were released at the June 24 Board of Education meeting by Superintendent of Schools Scott Rubin.

The Cranford Planning Board voted unanimously at its June 5 meeting to recommend that the Township Committee reject a rezoning request by 750 Walnut owner Hartz Mountain Industries. Residents expressed concern about the project after Rubin testified at a March Planning Board meeting that the development planned for the site would add more than 300 students to the district, which he characterized it as a “burden” the town could not accommodate.

Hartz is looking to rezone the 30.5-acre site from office and warehouse to a residential area to accommodate its proposed project.

Mark Rothman, the Planning Board attorney, is expected to have a final resolution ready for the board’s July 17 meeting, when members will formally vote on whether to rezone the property. The Township Committee is expected to consider the resolution and vote at the Aug. 13 meeting.

In an interview with LocalSource, Rubin said that the Birchwood development took more than 10 years to come to fruition, so it is impossible to predict the impact from the proposed 905 apartments.

The projected increase of 99 students in the district from the 225-unit apartment complex on Birchwood Avenue has been factored into the reconfiguration plans, according to Rubin.

Of the 10 plans put forth by the district for the reimagining project, No. 10 was the most popular among residents in two categories: the plan residents would support and the most preferred plan. This plan involves no reconfiguration of the township’s eight schools and carries a cost of about $15.4 million to construct 21 classrooms and two bathrooms within the district.

Plan No. 10 also poses a $362 tax impact on the average homeowner. Almost 40 percent of people surveyed chose Plan No. 10. Eighteen percent did not support any plan.

The second-most liked plan was No. 8, which Rubin calls the “compromise plan.” This plan proposes four schools that are kindergarten through fifth grade and and two middle schools for grades six to eight.

This plan, “by in large keeps people in their neighborhood schools but at the same time, it gets the full-day kindergarten, the appropriate spaces and two six-to-eight middle schools,” Rubin said at the meeting.

Plan No. 8 would cost approximately $34.5 million and includes adding 48 classrooms — more than any other plan — and one bathroom. The tax impact would be $512 for homeowners.

Overall, “proximity to proposed school locations” was the most important factor among residents, while having a comprehensive middle school was the least important, according to results.

A little more than 70 percent of residents are supportive of districtwide enhancements, which include the installation of air-conditioning in gyms, cafeterias and performing arts spaces, and updated science labs. The enhancements come with a $170 tax impact for the average homeowner. Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they were “extremely unsupportive” of the proposed district enhancements.

Now that the survey data has been processed, the district is forming a committee of “communitywide stakeholders,” according to Rubin at the June 24 meeting. The committee will meet early in the fall to further examine the data and help guide potential next steps, he said.