By JOHN T. WARD
A long-sought emergency roadway to the Red Bank Primary School is nearing reality, borough officials said last week.
“It’s been on the drawing board for 20 years,” said Mayor Pasquale Menna said in 2014, referring to a solution to a safety issue at the school. Located at the western terminus of River Street alongside the Swimming River, the school property has only one way in for emergency vehicles, and it’s the same way out for children and others who might need to be evacuated.
In fact, the school has been the scene of several emergencies over the past decade. In 2008, a man repeatedly stabbed his ex-girlfriend outside the school moments after she dropped their daughter off for classes. The incident prompted a heavy response by law enforcement, though no evacuation. (The assailant was later sentenced to 15 years in prison on attempted murder and other charges.)
In November, 2015, what turned out to be a small roof fire prompted school officials to evacuate children on foot to St. Paul the Baptist Church on River Street.
Police Chief Darren McConnell told the borough council last week that his department’s development of an active-shooter response plan for the school has one “glaring” problem: the single means of access. Evacuating while sending dozens of police and other responders onto the campus “is obviously unsafe, and a problem that would affect the kids,” he said.
In addition, a terrorist attack on the school that included blockage of the lone roadway access “would add at least five minutes to our response time, an amount of time in which every study shows an insurmountable number of lives would be lost.”
“The need for us to get in there quickly is vital,” he said.
The proposed solution calls for improving a narrow, 700-foot-long footpath that links the school and Locust Avenue to the north. But because it runs through the wooded wetlands that adjoin the school, the path needs shoring up to support heavy vehicles.
Planning for the project “started in full force” in 2015, engineer Christine Ballard, of T&M Associates, told the borough council last week. (T&M was retained to continue work on the project after losing its post as borough engineer in 2016.)
But the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection wanted a porous-pavement roadway, an expense borough officials resisted because it was both unnecessary and would create a “maintenance headache,” Ballard said.
After a number of meetings, the DEP now agrees that path may be made of asphalt, Ballard said. Bollards at either end will block regular vehicular traffic while allowing for emergency access, she said.
At the same time, she said, borough officials wanted to address the issue of water flow to hydrants at the site, which testing showed is “substandard,” Ballard said.
“This is a wood-framed-roof building, so you can imagine the need to have adequate fire flow is essential,” she said.
Linking the system from River Street to Locust Avenue through the school property will both improve flow and allow for the installation of three additional hydrants on school property, Ballard said. The upgrade will also benefit nearby residents in terms of water pressure, she said.
Superintendent Jared Rumage told the council he was “ecstatic” that the project was finally nearing construction after years of concern that arose before the terroristic attacks of September 11, 2001.
“We talk about ‘safety first,’ and if we can’t keep our kids and our staff and our community safe, we can’t do what we need to do in terms of student learning,” he said.
The council has introduced amendments to earlier road and water and sewer bond ordinances to cover the costs of the project not offset by grants. Final adoption is expected at the May 10 council meeting.
Here are the proposed amendments, which include additional projects, including repairs to broken sanitary sewer lines on Marion Street, said public utilities director Cliff Keen: