Work in progress

Big changes at the high school/middle school

“The traditional computer lab model is dead,” said Secaucus Superintendent of Schools Robert Presuto. “You don’t see any new schools now or any renovations with rows and rows of bolted-in computers. That model is gone.”
Instead Secaucus is moving toward a BYOD model – “bring your own device” – wherein students will be allowed to work on their own phones, tablets, or other devices using the school’s WiFi network with a content filter.
Presuto was speaking at a walkthrough of the high school/middle school, explaining the changes underway as part of the ongoing $21.5 million renovation of the campus. Construction began over the summer and will continue for more than another year. At the end of that time there will be new classrooms, administrative offices, art rooms, science labs, a gym, and more.
But for now construction continues. The major groundbreaking has been completed. So has the first round of construction inside the building. Work will progress throughout the school year on the new buildings being erected on the grounds, with the remainder of the construction inside the building to be completed next summer, after school lets out.
Already a significant amount of work has been done to the interior classrooms. The new BYOD classroom will have tables for six kids to work in groups. Each table will feature a 32-inch monitor. “The teacher can show any of their work up on the screen,” explained Presuto. Tables and monitors are not yet in place but are expected to be installed within about a month.

“Before, it was a classroom that we put a media class in. Now it’s a room that we built around a media program.” –Schools Superintendent Robert Presuto
Next door is an old-style computer lab, with rows of flat-screen monitors on tables. “For now these are going to stay as we continue to segue onto BYOD,” said Presuto. “It’s a huge rollout to switch to that format. There are still some things like desktop publishing that it’s hard to do on a small device. They’re easier to do on a production device like a PC.”

New culinary arts lab and media center

More significant changes took place elsewhere on the first floor. In the culinary arts lab, five new workstations were built, complete with stoves, dishwashers, and microwaves. “We had a mix of gas and electric stoves before,” said Presuto. “Now everything is natural gas.”
Also new are industrial refrigerators to store the food. “We were basically making do with home-grade refrigerators,” he continued. “These are commercial grade. They have external temperature gauges on them.”
A new, small room was built connecting the culinary arts lab with the fabrics room next door, and a washer and dryer installed to handle laundry.
All together, three new classrooms were added on the first floor, where art rooms and the digital photo room used to be. Art and photo were moved up to the second floor, to newly refurbished surroundings. The kilns for the ceramics program were also moved upstairs.
“This year the middle school stays upstairs,” said High School Principal Robert “Dr. Bob” Berckes. “But next year, when the whole project’s complete, the middle school will be in a separate part and the high school will be up here.”
Among the most notable additions on the second floor is the brand new media center, complete with a TV studio and control room. “This room has been reconfigured pretty much soup to nuts,” said Presuto. “Before, it was a classroom that we put a media class in. Now it’s a room that we built around a media program, which is a huge difference.”
The TV studio, from which students will broadcast school news every morning, is designed with green-screen technology to allow for video effects. The control room includes Apple computers and editing equipment.

A year of changes

At the time of the walkthrough on Sept. 3, less than a week before classes started, workmen were still buzzing around the interior. Boxes were piled high in classrooms. Lockers were pulled out of place in the hallways. But Presuto was confident that everything inside the building would be in place for the first day of school.
Brian Meade is the construction manager on the project. He is the one who planned and scheduled the work to cause as little interruption to the academic year as possible. Despite a few change orders due to unforeseen circumstances, everything has proceeded on schedule and according to plan.
“There are three additions being built around the existing facility,” he explained of the next phase of exterior construction, to be completed while classes are in session. “Area A is administrative spaces. Area B is classrooms, and a science and STEM lab. And then Area H in the back is a new gymnasium, locker rooms, weight room, technology lab, and some classrooms.”
The expected completion date for the entire project is November 2016, with final work to be done during the first few months of the 2016 school year. “That’s going to be the lighter stuff: painting, casework, ceiling tiles, carpet, light fixtures,” said Presuto. “Demolition and anything that makes a tremendous amount of noise or dust, that’ll already be finished.”

New access

Access to the school has changed dramatically for the duration of the project. The middle school entrance has been sealed, since construction will be taking place along that side. The normal high school entrance has been enclosed for limited access. The entrance by the Performing Art Center is now a main access point, along with exterior doors in certain classrooms.
A connecting hallway has been built to the new area A but will not be accessible until next year when the area is completed.
New traffic patterns were established, allowing vehicles to enter and exit at both driveways, as opposed to the previous one-way pattern with a separate entrance and exit. Highly visible signs have been posted and extra traffic police will be onsite for the beginning of school at least. Additional crossing guards will also be assisting with traffic.
Concrete blocks were put in place to create a walking path for students, separated from the passenger drop-off lane in the driveway. Initially the cost for the concrete barrier was estimated at more than $600,000 for “Jersey barriers” similar to those used to build the flood wall running alongside the school.
Instead Mayor Michael Gonnelli approached Schmitt Concrete in town. “There are thousands of these concrete barriers in Schmitt’s,” he said. “The same width, pretty much the same height as the Jersey barriers. It’s all recycled concrete. When the truck comes in at the end of the day there’s always concrete in it. So they had these molds and they would fill the molds up.”
Secaucus agreed to haul the barriers away at the town’s expense, and Schmitt gave the barriers away for free, in a win-win scenario. “It worked out perfectly,” said Gonnelli. “Maybe we spent $10,000 to truck them and put them in place, compared to $650,000 to do it as a change order. I think it’s money well spent.”

Art Schwartz may be reached at

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