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School Tour: Harrison Elementary School

Up-close look at the capital improvements intended for schools.

With the referendum on two bond proposals to make improvements in Livingston's schools nearing on December 8, this is the second piece in a 3-part series of "school tour" articles examining the repairs voters will be asked to approve.

To show what's at stake for students and staff, Patch recently met with Steve Robinson, Business Administrator and Board Secretary, and Jessica Ganz, Manager of Communications and Community Outreach for the district, who gave Patch a tour of some of the schools to see what exactly will be upgraded if the referendum passes.

Doug Zacker, a photographer and contributor to Patch, came along to capture leaky roofs, drafty windows and outdated auditorium equipment — just some things, among others, that stand to be updated.

This "school tour" series visits Burnet Hill Elementary School, Harrison Elementary School and Mount Pleasant Middle School (see related stories at bottom).

Other schools in the district are also slated for improvements. For a complete listing of what will be replaced in each school, visit the LPS website.

Second Stop: Harrison Elementary School

Harrison Elementary School marks its 80th anniversary this year. Built in 1929, it's the district's oldest school.  While it has aged well in many respects — it still looks picture perfect — the school needs to be modernized, with upgrades necessary for routine maintenance.  Parts of the roof, for example, need replacing.

Although most of the repairs would be in the school's original building, changes are slated in some other areas of the school that were built in the 1960s.  

A new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system (HVAC) would be installed in the original building, if the referendum passes, and older units in other parts of the school would be replaced, too. Single pane windows would also be refitted with double pane windows for energy efficiency (see photos).

But perhaps the biggest improvement Harrison warrants is an elevator.  The upper floor in the original building houses classrooms for fourth and fifth graders, but is completely inaccessible to any student in a wheelchair, using crutches or with any other mobility impairment (see photos). 

"Today we actually had a parent with a stroller who tried to get upstairs," said Principal Cynthia Healy, who along with Lou Caberson , head custodian, showed Patch around the school on a recent day.   "When we told her that it would be hard for her to get upstairs, she followed with 'Well, what would a handicapped student do?'

A handicapped student wouldn't be able to get to the second floor, Healy explained, which is even harder to reach than in other schools in the district because the ceilings at Harrison are so high.  The school is non-ADA (Americans with Disability Act) compliant in this regard.  

Healy also noted the installation of an elevator would be helpful for parents or grandparents who have a difficult time walking up stairs when they come to the school on Back-to-School nights or for other events.

Newer additions to Harrison already have ramps and wheelchair lifts; they would not be upgraded in the referendum.  Some bathrooms in the school would be altered to be ADA compliant, with newer fixtures to be installed.

While ADA compliance may not seem like an obvious issue, Steve Robinson pointed out at the end of the Harrison visit why it is critical for the district to address.

"If somebody sued the district because of an ADA incident, then we would be liable for paying out 100% of the cost of repairs," said Robinson, adding that legal fees would be separate.  "Not 60 percent like now."

Robinson is referring to the fact that Livingston will receive a one-time grant from the state of New Jersey that will provide 40 percent of the monies to cover the cost of improvements, such as installing an elevator, if the bond proposal on the referendum is approved by voters.  The state's grant comes from the federal stimulus monies for school construction projects.

As Robinson and other members of the board have said in recent weeks, the board will have to make these capital improvements to the school, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.  But the reason for the push now is to get help.

"We potentially have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get money from the state," said Robinson.

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