2009-11-05 / Schools

Energy-efficient school serves kids with autism

Campus includes accessible playground, aquatic center
BY JENNIFER BOOTON Staff Writer

The David B. Crabiel Aquatic and Fitness Center is on the 28-acre campus of the recently opened Center for Lifelong Learning in Sayreville. The David B. Crabiel Aquatic and Fitness Center is on the 28-acre campus of the recently opened Center for Lifelong Learning in Sayreville. SAYREVILLE — A newly opened school for children with autism may be one of the most energy-efficient schools in the country.

The Center for Lifelong Learning, an 89,000-square-foot special education school on Cheesequake Road, can serve up to 175 students, ages 3 to 21, from five counties. It was chartered through the Piscataway-based Middlesex Regional Educational Services Commission (MRESC), which has dedicated five schools over the past 13 years, according to Middlesex County Freeholder Director Stephen J. Dalina.

"This school will be a special place for students," Dr. Patrick Piegari, executive superintendent of schools for Middlesex County, said during a recent grand-opening celebration. "Anything is possible."

The facility, designed by USA Architects, is one of the first public school buildings in the state to be built according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, and could become the first to be certified LEED Platinum. This is due largely to its all-natural building materials and its use of green power.

About 94 percent of the materials used to build the facility are recyclable, and all the materials were purchased within a 500-mile radius, many of which were harvested specifically for the project, according to MRESC Superintendent Mark Finkelstein. There are also geothermal wells under the building that catch nearly 75 percent of the rainfall to be recycled and reused.

Finkelstein said the school may be ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the top energy-efficient schools in the country, although the applications for both the state and national rankings are still being processed.

The school opened for the 2009-10 school year with 136 students, but the number has shot up to 153 in the weeks since. Although the school targets students with autism, its 24 classrooms also serve children with related disorders including multiply disabled and preschool disabled. It offers specialized instruction based on the principles of applied behavior analysis and/or verbal behavior for students with autism or behaviors related to autism.

"With the right learning tools, we can help every child learn," said Dale G. Caldwell, president of the MRESC board of directors. "The best learning comes from the small things."

The center is split into four communi- ties, each of which includes a main meeting room, art and music class areas, and six classrooms. Each classroom has its own bathroom, sink and closet. The school also contains a media center; physical, occupational and speech therapy rooms; several specialized classrooms; an adaptive physical education gymnasium; an integral garden; a community center, and the David B. Crabiel Aquatic and Fitness Center.

"As you can see, it takes a village to raise a child," Debra Nappi, principal of the Center for Lifelong Learning, said, referring to the school's large staff. "Their level of dedication is incredible. What they do every day is amazing."

"Our end is to give the best life and best future possible for all kids," Nappi said. "We don't look at what they can't do, we look at what they can do. And all of us are up to the task."

The school, which cost $28 million to construct and was funded through the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, also has a playground that is accessible for children with disabilities and open to community members. The Old Bridge-Sayreville Rotary Club provided $100,000 in funding for the playground.

The MRESC dedicated the school and the Aquatic and Fitness Center during the Oct. 23 ceremony. Representatives from the Sayreville Borough Council and Board of Education, county freeholders, state officials, MRESC members and staff from the center itself were on hand. Finkelstein served as master of ceremonies.

"This county would be better off if we had more people working for others rather than for themselves," Caldwell said at the ceremony. "This [school] went right because people worked together for the common good."

The Aquatic and Fitness Center, which includes an Olympic-size pool and a walkin pool, was named for the late Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel in honor of his "long-lasting support to the community and support for children of Middlesex County," according to Finkelstein.

"It was the least we could do in his memory," he said.

Representing the family at the ceremony was Crabiel's daughter, Paulette Wahler.

"My father loved helping people and was especially proud of the county's dedication to its residents," she said.

The MRESC was established in 1977 and serves nearly 75 school districts in 11 counties, plus the 24 school districts in Middlesex County. The commission seeks to help districts offer educational programs for students with special needs.

For more information, including enrollment, call the MRESC at 908-777-9848, ext. 3200, or visit http://www.mcesc.k12.nj.us.

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