Referendum update: Only one Princeton elementary school will get air conditioning this summer

The $27 million bond referendum will fund air conditioning at all of the Princeton elementary schools and upgrades to the air conditioning at John Witherspoon Middle School. But this summer, air conditioning will only be installed at Riverside Elementary School. Air conditioning won’t be installed in the other schools until the following summer.

At a special meeting of the Princeton School Board on Tuesday, Scott Downie of the Spiezle Architectural Group reviewed the time table for referendum projects.

Downie said the schedule is tight for the referendum this summer. Because of the limited time, the school board facilities committee has recommended that air conditioning be installed in only one school this summer. Riverside was chosen as the “pilot project” because it is the smallest elementary school in the district, officials said. Air conditioning will be installed in all the classrooms at Riverside this summer. Some work may continue in the fall after school hours. The Riverside multipurpose room won’t receive air conditioning until later.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said even though getting air conditioning was a referendum priority, the facilities committee agreed to wait to install air conditioning at the other schools to make sure the projects are done the right way, and work does not interfere with school. “Right out of the gate, there is a concern about the risk that the project continues over the fall,” Cochrane said.

Because of concerns about the tight summer timeline, the school district will purchase the 25 air conditioning units for Riverside directly through the Middlesex Co-op rather than going out to bid for the units. The board is slated to approve the purchase of the units at the school board meeting next week. If pricing information is not available by the meeting, the board will approve a resolution authorizing the facilities committee to approve the purchase in between board meetings. The three-foot by four-foot units will be floor units. The current wall units will be replaced with bookshelves. Downie said officials reached out to Princeton University to have staff there review the units in detail, and received a positive response.

Board member Deb Bronfeld questioned whether the board would get a better price on the air conditioning units if all the units for the district are purchased at the same time.

“The co-op price may be a little higher than if we put the units out to bid,” School Board President Beth Behrend said. “We are spending more, but we are getting the units much sooner.”

Board member Brian McDonald asked Downie whether the district risks getting units from another manufacturer later for the remaining units that are put out to bid. Downie said it is possible the other units would be from a different manufacturer because of the way public bidding works. Substitutions can be proposed by the bidder, but it doesn’t mean the district must accept them, he said.

Downie said electrical upgrades at the elementary schools will occur through the summer, and air conditioning will also be installed at the high school gymnasium this summer.

Security upgrades at the elementary schools and middle school will begin over the summer and run through the fall. The bookstore at the high school will be transformed into a remote dining area in the summer and fall, Downie said.

The remaining projects will go out to bid in September. Construction would start around Nov. 1 and run through the following summer.

“It depends on how we work out the logistics plans associated with that work,” Downie said of the schedule.

The remaining projects include: a second floor addition at the high school, changes to the high school fitness center and guidance area, a high school security vestibule, the renovation of the old library space and nurses area at the high school, the athletic fields projects, and bathrooms at the high school stadium.

School board member Betsy Baglio said that the school board may want to revise the 2019-20 academic calendar to better accommodate the construction projects.