- January 6, 2019
WEST ORANGE – Although parents and Orange County public Schools officials agree overcrowding continues to be a problem at Bridgewater Middle School, the best solution to that problem remains uncertain.
But the recurring problem has spurred OCPS to propose alternative options to alleviate crowding while parents wait for relief schools to complete the two-year design and construction process.
During a community meeting held Monday, August 21, District 4 School Board Member Pam Gould proposed two options to alleviate crowding at Bridgewater Middle School.
One option involved adding about 30 more portables to the campus at a cost of $1.5 million, which already has 49 portables. The second option was to temporarily house students who would be zoned to go to Bridgewater Middle’s relief school in 2019 at the West Orange High School’s Ninth-Grade Center for a year until the new relief school is completed. The cost for this option, Gould said, is undetermined, but the majority of the estimated cost would stem from busing.
“My thoughts were, ‘Do we keep plopping portables down there, or do we look for a space, such as this one, that could act as a swing school as we try to manage the growth that we’re having over here,” Gould said. “And could we rezone an entire year early so that the middle-school population that would be together in the new middle school would come here for one year and then go into their new building.”
However, the overwhelming consensus among the roughly 100 parents in attendance was that they would rather stick it out at Bridgewater Middle and endure the traffic than move their kids somewhere else — again.
“Some of these kids have been to two different elementary schools and now the middle school is overcrowded,” said parent Julie Sadlier, who has an eighth-grader at Bridgewater. “We foresaw this because they added so many elementary schools — I think it’s about three schools in the last two years — so if you add that many elementary schools but you haven’t added a middle school, they’re going to graduate and flood the middle school.”
If OCPS chose the second approach, Gould said, OCPS would transfer all the classes, programs and electives students would have at the new school to the temporary facility and then move it all again once the relief school is opened.
Despite Gould’s assurance to have a smooth transition to the relief school, many parents still felt uneasy about the suggestion to house students at West Orange’s Ninth-Grade Center. They cited concerns ranging from mold and safety to the close proximity to the high school-aged students, and most notably, the emotional and social impact on the students who risk a disjointed middle-school experience.
“It’s better to keep all of the kids together and maybe look at doing alternate schedules — anything that they need to do to keep the kids there because having them come here is not a viable option, and it’s not a safe option either,” said parent Melissa Scire, who has a sixth-grader at Bridgewater.
As of June 1, 2017, Bridgewater had 1,917 students enrolled — nearly double its capacity of 1,040. And according to Gould, the over-capacity school is anticipated to see a possible 400 more students enrolled next year. At this rate of student enrollment, OCPS expects it will need a relief school to relieve the Bridgewater relief school by 2021, which would open in 2023.
Acknowledging the strong concerns parents expressed during the meeting, Gould assured parents’ opinions will be considered before any decisions are made by the school board and urged everyone to take the web-based survey on which option they prefer. The survey will be included on the school website’s home page.
“(The survey results) will play a pretty large role, because I’m the one leading this question in this charge. Nobody else is saying, ‘Hey we want to create a swing school for you,’ ” Gould said. “So it’ll weigh pretty heavily on which direction I take to the board.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]