NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The president of the Lincoln Annex parent group said the district should build a replacement school for the crumbling one on Somerset Street that he said looks like a prison.
Jimmie Staton, whose son attends the school, said that many of the people who marched through the streets and held up banners at Board of Education meetings over the past several months to defend the school against a plan to raze it probably wouldn’t want to send their children there.
“Why are we fighting for a building that hasn’t worked for us since we bought it and why are allies fighting to make sure we stay in horrible conditions in this horrible building?” Staton said during the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.
A 20-member taskforce consisting of parents, teachers, community leaders, administrators and one board member recommended that the board allow the 60-year-old school to be razed as part of a $750 million project. In its place, the New Brunswick Development Corporation, the city’s private development firm, will construct the state’s first free-standing cancer hospital.
Under the plan, Lincoln Annex will be replaced by a new $55 million state-of-the-art school at 50 Jersey Ave.
The plan came under fire by some activists and residents, who were concerned that, among other things, students’ education will suffer while they attended the Pathways Campus at 40 Van Dyke Ave. as the replacement school is constructed.
Saving Lincoln Annex became a rallying cry for three candidates running for seats on the board. Linda “Lindy” Stark, Reginald “Reggie” Park and Jad Kaado were easily defeated by incumbents Dale Caldwell, Patricia Valera and Emra Seawood in the May election.
Staton pointed out Tuesday that Lincoln Annex has inadequate parking for staff and parents, a tiny cafeteria, exposed pipes and tubing, poor lighting, a broken stairway and a leaky ceiling.
“Our children are taught how to walk around the buckets,” he said. “We have black, broken marble staircase that around 750 children have to navigate to go to a cafeteria using those steps and to a cafeteria that’s way too small, and especially now with that social distancing precautions. Sitting shoulder to shoulder in a packed cafeteria is not an option. Permanent walls that are the color of a disgusting beige brown, like an old public toilet that has seen more than its fair share of urine, feces and dirt.”
Staton also addressed those who continued to call the Pathways Campus “a warehouse” even though it has always been used as an education space. The building is said to be able to house more than 800 students and it’s currently home to some 40 students enrolled in the district’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, program.
In September, there were no signs of forklifts or conveyor belts when the district gave walking tours of the facility during a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Gov. Phil Murphy.
“I have been going to that particular space for at least 10 years for different meetings and events and let me tell you, for a temporary space, it’s much cleaner, brighter, newer than the permanent space at Lincoln Annex,” he said. “Request a tour. See for yourself. I have.”
Staton, the president of the Lincoln Annex PTO and a parent volunteer at the school, seemed to address the fact that the site at 50 Jersey Ave. is in need of remediation when, at the end of his comments, he said the replacement school should be built safely.
He is hoping the new school is not only state-of-art, but also as aesthetically pleasing as some he has seen in other municipalities such as Princeton, Millburn, Flemington and neighboring Franklin.
“What do we have at Lincoln Annex?” Staton said. “We have a street, a sidewalk and a metal door. Once you’re buzzed in, you have old marble steps that lead you to a guard booth and then a long, dark hallway with miserable lighting. It sounds like scenes from a prison movie, doesn’t it? It’s not cool at all. There’s exposed pipes and tubing throughout. How do you expect our children to learn under these conditions?”
The Diocese of Metuchen sold St. Peter’s school to the school district for $7.4 million in 2013. The district spent $22 million on repairs and renamed it Lincoln Annex.
RWJ Barnabas is picking up the tab for the $750 million project.
Last month, the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders approved a $25 million grant that will not only help fund the project, but allow Middlesex County College and high school students access to its educational facilities.
The Board of Education adopted a resolution in February authorizing the preparation and filing of an update to school district’s long-range facilities plan “that will recommend the replacement of the current Lincoln Annex School with a new school to be constructed on a different site.”