New housing proposed on the old grounds of Thomas Edison's factory building on Main Street has some school leaders feeling uneasy.
The redevelopment plan calls for more than and 18,500 square feet of retail space. Township officials say the apartments target empty nesters and predict a less than one percent increase in school-age children.
But with student population , school officials worry the redevelopment plan will only aggravate the problem.
"We're out of space right now," said Board of Education President Laura Lab. "I'm very concerned … I question the number as to how many students are coming out of the developments."
According to a report by the developer, Prism Capital Partners, LLC, four percent of the 600 new residents at the Edison apartments will be children.
"It's fair to project about 30 new students," said Councilman Sal Anderton, who sits on the redevelopment committee. "And based on the 6,800 (students) in the school system, that's less than one percent."
He said going by the data compiled by planning director Susan Borg and the school registrar's office, one in 10 West Orange residents are school-aged kids. "Somewhere between four to 10 percent is where the population will be for school-age children (in the new apartments)," he said, adding that at most, the redevelopment would produce 60 kids.
Anderton said the proposed apartments would be significantly more expensive than existing housing stock and include a 24-hour concierge — discouraging overcrowding in the units. "It's going to be more difficult to put six people in a studio apartment with an active landlord …there's less of a likelihood of that, units are smaller and more expensive," he said.
One-bedrooms units will range from $1,800 to $2,400, according to the developer's report.
Ron DePiro, manager of the in West Orange, who has been in real estate for 16 years, told Patch one-bedroom apartments in the township hover between $800 and $1,700.
He said rentals tend to be occupied by empty nesters.
"It's a low child traffic area," he said. "Rentals produce less children than for sale. An apartment doesn't allow you to lock into the community, most people feel that they can't build on an apartment."
Regardless of how many children live in the new housing units, additional kids means additional costs for the school district.
Yet, under the proposed development, the township will enter a payment in lieu of taxes agreement, where the developer agrees to pay a reduced amount to the township instead of regularly applied real estate taxes.
While general taxes on a property would divert roughly 30 percent to the township and 60 percent to the school district, under the developer's payment program, 95 percent goes to straight to the township. The school district does not receive a percentage of the payments.
Numerous times, township officials have stressed they would allocate a portion of the developer's fees to the schools. Anderton said the township will pay a per-pupil cost for every student that comes out of the development.
"I'm committed to doing this," he said.
Lab said she remained worried the development would tip the scales and add to overcrowding in the schools. "Even if we have the money, it's not going to pay for a new building," she said.
If approved, the apartments would neighbor two of the district's smallest schools – and .
According to a November report by Gregory Somjen, from Perette Somjen Architects in Rockaway, from 2011 to 2016, the number of unhoused students will jump from 46 to 84 at Hazel and from 29 to 24 at Washington. Unhoused students refers to the number of students that exceed the capacity of a given space as determined by the state.
Lab said the district was working to possibly relocate the preschool at to a leased space and suggested having the developer allow the district to house the preschool on the Main Street property. The move would free up additional space to accomodate a growing student population.
Much still remains on the table for discussion, as both the township council and the board of education have yet to set a . The township council's discussion of the project was also
"As you saw from our demographer report, in five years we're going to have 800 kids that are unhoused," said Lab. "I don't see (the project) as a benefit to the school district."