It wasn’t a pretty picture when the Franklin Township Board of Education (BOE) came to SSP Architects for help. Challenges included overcrowded facilities, aging school buildings and the need to eliminate a dozen trailers at what was then six of nine schools. Where to start?
The transformation began with a Master Plan, which led over the years to pre-referendum services, long range facility planning, additions and renovations, creation of school-based healthcare centers, accessing ROD grant funding for capital improvements and a $7 million Energy Savings Improvement Program (ESIP) allowing the district to complete priority infrastructure projects, helping find a site for the district’s administrative offices and designing them, and most important of all designing the new Claremont Elementary School and Franklin Middle School – SGS Campus.
SSP was first brought into the district specifically for its expertise in working with complex school districts to develop comprehensive facilities master plans. Working closely with a group of approximately 50 stakeholders, SSP guided the process that created a consensus to prioritize projects.
“We reviewed existing sites and building conditions, updated demographic projections, and evaluated sustainable ways to accommodate enrollment growth and the capital infrastructure needs over the coming decade,” said Jeanne Perantoni, principal and educational facility planner of SSP Architects.
What emerged was a comprehensive master plan that included district-wide restructuring of grade levels, rethinking how instruction was delivered in grades 4 through 8 and evaluating the impact of the current intermediate and middle school facilities, re-investing in capital infrastructure to provide adequate classroom space to improve student-teacher ratios and reducing out-of-district placements to educate students with special needs.
Step two was distilling the established needs into a passable referendum plan. “One Less Move” was developed as the central theme of the referendum campaign, which passed handily. The result was a new grade structure enabling students to attend three schools throughout the PK/K-12 career instead of four. SSP led the process that distilled a referendum scope from the full Master Plan, developing an $85 million plan that centered on the construction of a new K-5 elementary school and the expansion and conversion of a former intermediate school into a second middle school.
Reflecting on the growing SSP-Franklin partnership, John Ravally, Superintendent of Franklin Township Schools, said, “Beyond the referendum, we are thrilled to be continuing to work with SSP as our current Architect of Record. As our buildings continue to age, and our programs continue to change, there is more to be done in Franklin, and we rest easier knowing that SSP is our partner as we navigate the next steps in our educational facility development.”
The major achievements of this partnership were SSP’s designs for two key components of the referendum: the design of a new Claremont Elementary School for children in grades K-5, and the expansion and conversion of Sampson G. Smith from an intermediate school to a second middle school. The 131,000 square foot Claremont school features 39 classrooms, 11 Special Education classrooms that include a sensory room with special lighting and furnishings, a cafeteria, gymnasiums, media center and nine specialized instructional spaces that feature a science lab and flexible areas for art and music. It was designed to meet LEED Gold standards.
“Not only did it (Claremont) open on time, but it really has some of the nicest features and functions that a school can have,” said Ravally.
In fact, the school was fast-tracked to open a year early to help make the grade reconfiguration shift proceed more seamlessly. The expedited schedule was achieved even with the need to overcome challenges created by site complications.
Simultaneously, SSP oversaw the expansion and conversion of the Sampson G. Smith School (SGS) into full middle school use. Work at SGS included the construction of a new gym and locker room, a second addition to house a new secure entry and administration offices, upgrading building systems, a partial roof replacement, and renovations of key educational areas including science labs.
Currently, SSP is designing clinical space for Franklin’s health partnership with Integrity Health. Through the conversion of an office building space, the health center will offer teachers, school staff and their families, a state-of-the-art health clinic. This will save the district significant funds to provide medical coverage for its school employees.
The BOE and Township are also collaborating with the planned opening of a public/private health clinic on the Middle School’s Hamilton Street Campus. Working closely with both public entities, as well as Zufall Health, SSP is finalizing the design of a new non-profit, community health center to provide affordable, high-quality healthcare to families and children who may have trouble accessing medical services because of financial barriers or other difficulties.
Franklin’s new, renovated, and expanded facilities have allowed the district to develop an improved 9:1 student to teacher ratio, and provide space for educating the community’s students with disabilities within the district’s ten schools. With the help of expanded and upgraded facilities, even with the challenges of educating one of New Jersey’s largest and most diverse school districts (with over 65 languages spoken by families in the district and 12.9% of the approximately 7,000 students being English learners), the district has been recognized by the New Jersey Department of Education as a High Performing District since 2018.
“We are excited for our students who are going to be the beneficiaries of these high-quality facilities where they can build on the excellent education they receive from our teachers and to make the world a better place,” said Ravally.