BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 | MonroeNow | Jul 31, 2018
MONROE – Residents objected to a district decision to install temporary classroom trailers along a busy Monroe Township street by holding a rally Monday afternoon to call attention to the dangers of Perrineville Road, but a location change may not happen.
Earlier this month the Monroe Township School District installed a the temporary trailers along the busy street, which runs parallel to Monroe Township Middle School. The trailers will house middle school students while district officials craft another referendum plan to build a second middle school to address overcrowding. A $68.8 million referendum in March to build a second middle school was defeated. The trailers, however, would have been needed anyway to address overcrowding in the short-term.
“The rally was held because we are extremely concerned that those trailers are only 30 feet from the road. We feel it places children and teachers in unnecessary danger from traffic or anyone who wishes to do harm,” said Al Quercia, who attended the rally. “A vehicle can easily veer off the road and strike these trailers. We are trying to prevent this and safeguard the children.”
Said rally organizer Rochelle Fennell after the rally: “I want them to move. I don’t want to hear it is too late. God forbid something happens, what are they [the Board of Education] going to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Find another solution. At this point that’s what they have to do.”
The rally piggybacks off an online petition through change.org to apply pressure on district officials to move the location of the temporary classroom trailers. As of Tuesday morning, almost 1,900 people signed the petition, Fennell started on July 24.
But despite the outcry from residents, moving the trailers may not be a feasible option. “They [the trailers] do have to be approved from a construction standpoint from the township,” said acting Superintendent Robert Goodall on Tuesday. “At this point with all the site work that has been done, I’m not in construction, but it would be a real challenge to move them by the first of September.”
The petition states that Perrineville Road is a busy street that has had its share of accidents in recent years and having the Middle School classroom trailers that close to the street puts the students in danger.
In 2017, a driver of a pickup truck on Perrineville Road reportedly lost control of his vehicle and hit the scoreboard near the football field. No students were hurt in the accident and the driver was treated at a nearby hospital, according to the petition, which uses this recent incident as a reason to move the trailers to a different location.
For a new location, the petition suggests moving the trailers behind the Middle School, similar to what was done for the high school at one point when the additional classroom space was needed. If additional requirements are needed to place the trailers behind the school, the petition calls on the school board to make accommodations even if that includes temporary portable restroom trailers.
The petition also said that building a barrier is “unacceptable. If one has to consider placing a barriers for protection that obviously means the location is unsafe.”
“As of today, there’s no plan to move them [the trailers],” Goodall said. “I’ve always had faith in our district and facility’s department to provide the best environment for our kids. At this point I would ask the community to wait to see the final product. It’s still in the construction phase. I’ve taken their concerns to the architect to lesson those concerns. Let’s see what the finished product is at the end of the month.”
Prior to the petition’s launch, Board of Education member Ken Chiarella said at the July 18 meeting the classrooms trailers were placed along Perrineville so temporary structures would have access to sewer lines.
“We’ve been getting a lot of questions. … Bottom line when we had trailers prior we had them on the field but those were not connected to sewers. These will be,” he said. “Kids won’t have to leave to go to the bathroom.”
Chiarella, who is the chairman of the board’s Buildings, Grounds and Transportation Committee, also said the trailers are secure.
“We are going to also have security measures in place on the doors and monitoring them so we just don’t have people entering and doing whatever,” he said.
In a letter on Monday to the community, Goodall addressed the trailers’ location. An important factor in determining the trailers’ location, Goodall wrote, was access to underground water and sewer lines.
“This condition of the project was based on administrative and community input that these additional classrooms must have in-house access to water and bathrooms for students and staff. Our experiences in the past are consistent with the fact that trailers with in-house water and bathrooms allow for optimal learning and secure environments for our students and staff,” he wrote. “The safety and security of our students and staff remains our number one priority. To this end, discussions regarding the installation of protective barriers along the perimeter of the trailer footprint, among other items, are continuing. Once a final decision is arrived at in this regard, I will provide the parents in this district with additional information.”
Earlier this year, the school board approved the funding needed to lease the temporary classroom trailers to address overcrowding. The district anticipates an additional 1,500 students over the next five years. The trailers are meant as a stopgap measure until a new school can be built. However, after the March referendum failed, plans for removing the trailers at an earlier date remains in flux.
“Parents knew the trailers were coming. It wasn’t a secret. The argument isn’t if we need trailers, the argument is the placement,” said Chrissy Skurbe.
This story has been updated to include comments on Tuesday from acting Superintendent Robert Goodall and rally organizer Rochelle Fennell, who initially were not available for comments by the time this article was published.