NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The plan to build a $55 million school – a vital piece of a larger $750 million development project that would include the razing of Lincoln Annex School to make way for a free-standing cancer hospital – took two steps forward this week.
The biggest step came Tuesday, when Superior Court Judge Arthur Bergman ruled that a deed restriction placed on the property at 165 Somerset St. – the site of Lincoln Annex – could only be enforced by the Catholic Diocese of Metuchen.
The Diocese placed several restrictions on the deed when it sold the old St. Peter’s school to the city for $7.4 million in 2013. For example, the site could not be used as “a topless bar” or “an x-rated movie theater.” The deed also came to contain language that the site had to be used “solely for public education purposes or for public administrative offices for no less than 50 years.”
Attorneys for LatinoJustice filed the five-count suit on the behalf of four defendants seeking an emergency injunction to halt the sale of the school pending a full hearing on claims the New Brunswick Board of Education cannot legally sell the land.
Three of the plaintiffs, Maria Juarez, Julio Herrera Vivar and Maria Chiquito, filed on their own behalf as well as on the behalf of a minor child. A fourth plaintiff, Lilia Fernandez, is a Rutgers professor and activist.
A steering committee comprising a board of education member, nine parents of Lincoln Annex School children, three community members, three district administrators, three Lincoln Annex staff members and the school's principal has recommended that the board go ahead with the plan to sell the school.
RWJBarnabas plans to pay to have the 60-year-old school and build the state’s first free-standing cancer hospital on the site. The 12-story hospital will be connected to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey via sky bridges.
RWJBarnabas will work with the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) and the board to build a replacement school on a 4.25-acre lot of vacant land at 50 Jersey Ave.
Lincoln Annex, which was home to about 750 children during the 2019-20 school year before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the district’s schools to shut their doors, is scheduled to be razed in the fall. The students will attend the district’s Pathways Campus at 40 Van Dyke Ave. while the replacement school is built.
The second step forward came when the Planning Board voted 7-0 on Monday that a plan to build the school was consistent with the city’s master plan as amended by the Jersey Handy redevelopment plan.
The Planning Board was moved to make a ruling under Section 31 of the land use laws based on correspondence between the Board of Education’s architects and the New Jersey Department of Education concerning the land acquisition of the 50 Jersey Ave. site.
The plaintiffs scored a victory, at least for now, when Bergman said the suit could continue regarding the count alleging the Board of Education violating the Open Public Meeting Act.
The suit alleges the board at its Feb. 22 meeting shared a published agenda that only spoke of a proposal for the sale of Lincoln Annex, which the community was informed for the first time. The agenda did not include a vote on the proposed sale of the school.
The suit alleges that plaintiffs and members of the public were not allowed to speak on the matter. They left the meeting when the board adjourned.
When the board returned and resumed the meeting, it voted to amend the school district’s long-range facilities plan to include the sale and closing of Lincoln Annex.
“We are determined to take this case as far as necessary to get just treatment for 760 children who are being threatened with dislocation from one of the city’s best performing schools – and this was just the first step,” said Juan Gonzalez, a member of the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex, in a statement provided to TAPinto New Brunswick.
Fernandez was contacted by TAPinto New Brunswick but said she could not comment based on the advice of her attorney.
The Middlesex County Board of Freeholders approved a $25 million grant last month that will not only help fund the project, but allow Middlesex County College and high school students access to its educational facilities.
According to state records, Lincoln Annex was home to 556 students during the 2018-19 school year. About 95% of the students were Hispanic and 3.2% were Black or African American.