CAMDEN, NJ — It's now official, Veterans Memorial Family School will keep its doors open this fall.
The New Jersey Department of Education has approved emergent repairs to the 90-year-old school, just a day after Camden superintendent Katrina McCombs confirmed that it would be saved based on an expectation of funding.
McCombs on Wednesday said there was support for the state-run district to receive $6 million in emergency aid necessary to keep the school open for at least the 2019-20 year.
While the repairs are moving forward, the Schools Development Authority still needs to determine the aid amount, according to Mike Yaple, director of public information for the DOE. Yaple in an email said "the DOE determines what projects are emergent, and the SDA addresses the monetary aspect."
A statement released Thursday acknowledged that input from students, parents, and teachers played a role in the repair approval, which was a collaboration between the state agencies.
“This is an example of how officials at all levels, ranging from the administration in Trenton to local school leaders in Camden, came together to listen to the voices of stakeholders in the community,” said Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, commissioner of education.
In an interview, Camden Education Association president Keith Benson added: "I'm just thankful everyone was able to come together and realize how important this was to the community and the students."
According to the agency statement issued, the DOE identified the exterior walls, windows, and a section of the roof as the most high-priority fixes for Vets. It also cited a need for some interior repairs and exterior site work. The SDA will begin to review the project scope for design specifications and come up with the estimated cost of repairs.
“The (DOE) is working closely with the SDA to ensure students are provided a safe and secure learning environment,” said Kevin Dehmer, the CFO and assistant commissioner for finance for the DOE. “Throughout this effort, the needs of the children were always at the forefront of every conversation.”
In addition to repairs to the school, the DOE Office of Innovations plans to work with district leaders and Camden teachers to develop Vets into a community school, the statement said. Officials have tossed around ideas for the building to house afterschool programs, services for local residents, and meetings for civic groups.
“By keeping Veterans Memorial Family School open, we are ensuring continued educational success for students in Camden and keeping a long-standing part of the community open. It is critical that students across our state are able to access a high-quality education,” said Governor Phil Murphy in the statement. "I am proud that my administration has worked closely with the city to prevent the closure of this school.”