Could South Orange-Maplewood Students Attend New STEM School at Marylawn?

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South Orange-Maplewood School District high school students could attend a new STEM high school proposed to open at the former Marylawn site next September, according to one professional working on the proposal.

Massimo F. Yezzi Jr., an architect testifying on behalf of the Orange Education Foundation, told the South Orange Planning Board on Monday night that South Orange-Maplewood students would be invited to attend the new Science Technology Engineering and Math-themed high school and that SOMSD Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos had been in discussions with the Orange Public Schools superintendent about the possibility.

Village Green has reached out to Dr. Ramos for comment and will update the story when he has an opportunity to reply.

Ramos is currently in the midst of a Strategic Plan process that has promised to rethink how education is delivered in the district on every level — from facilities to professional development to the method of teaching — and will lead a second Education Summit discussing the newly unveiled Action Plans on Tuesday, December 6.

The newsworthy tidbit was not elaborated upon at the Dec. 5 South Orange Planning Board meeting which focused on planning-related items like traffic, parking, ADA access, landscaping and lighting — but not education.

Most neighbors expressed concern about potential traffic circulation and parking issues but were cautiously optimistic about the proposal, seeing potential parallels with the Marylawn use. “Marylawn was a good neighbor,” said one local resident.

The Orange Education Foundation looks to be successful where Seton Hall University was not. In 2014, Seton Hall University proposed purchasing the site for its graduate medical school, serving 500 students, bringing in 72 staffers and constructing a 202-space parking lot. Neighbors and Planning Board members questioned the traffic impact, and Seton Hall ultimately withdrew its application.

The Orange Education Foundation is purchasing the property and leasing it to the Orange Board of Education. Because the use is for a public school facility, the governmental body with power to regulate and approve the disposition of the property is the New Jersey Department of Education, not the South Orange Planning Board.

However, the attorney for the Orange Education Foundation, Robert Shea of Shea & Associates, stressed that the DOE process is very stringent and that it required a courtesy hearing/informal review with the South Orange Planning Board. He also promised that the Foundation and Orange Public Schools would be a “good neighbor” and open communications with residents and their associations in order to mitigate any issues around parking and traffic — although the DOE has not required a traffic study.

With Marylawn, approximately 130 secondary school girls attended school on the property at one point. The new Orange Education Foundation proposal calls for an interim use in spring 2017 for about 55 gifted and talented 7th and 8th graders who would come via two 18′-long school buses. In September 2017, the STEM high school would open, serving 100-125 students initially. That number could grow to between 200 and 250 students over time, said Shea.

Minimum improvements are needed for the site, with no exterior changes, said Yezzi, who outlined the addition of boys bathrooms and ADA compliant ramps as necessary changes, but not much more. The Graves House would be restored eventually and would need to go through DOE approval at that time. Yezzi said that the South Orange Historic Preservation Commission had seen the proposal and approved it.

Neighbors expressed concerns that high school students would try to drive to school and park in the neighborhood. However, Yezzi said that Orange Public Schools would work hard to discourage that option (few Orange High School students drive to school as it is, they said), instead counseling students to walk or take public transportation. Parents dropping off students via automobiles would enter the property via Scotland Road and exit onto West Montrose. No students were be bused to the site after June 2017.

Neighbor Ed Moore told the Planning Board, “We’re concerned about our neighborhoods. One issue is communication with the community. There hasn’t been a lot so people think the worst.”

Shea promised open and ongoing communications: “If there is a problem, we’d like to open up a dialogue.”

The South Orange Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the “informal review.”

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