NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Members of an ad-hoc group trying to stop the sale of an elementary school are concerned that Monday’s announcement that St. Peter’s University Healthcare System was exploring a merger with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital could hurt their cause.
About 10 members of the Fifth and Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association met at the Hungarian Heritage Center on Somerset Street to discuss ways to halt the sale of the Lincoln Annex School just hours after details of the merger emerged.
The potential sale of the Lincoln Annex School, which is home to about 750 students in grades 3-7, has stirred emotions among many residents in the city’s Fifth Ward since Board of Education President Diana Solis said at October's meeting that administrator/secretary Richard Jannarone and district director of facility design and construction Frank LoDolce had previously met with a representative of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) concerning the sale.
In June, RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in partnership with DEVCO, announced plans to build a $750 million, free-standing cancer pavilion.
Although it was not specified at the press conference to unveil the pavilion plans, it seems that RWJ wants to build where Lincoln Annex sits. At an October press conference, DEVCO president Chris Paladino said the pavilion would have be located adjacent to the hospital on Somerset Street to easily transport patients back and forth.
Members of the Fifth and Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association were hoping a deed restriction that goes back to when the city bought old St. Peter’s school from the Diocese of Metuchen for $7.4 million in 2013 would ultimately put a kibosh on the sale. The deed prohibits any other use of the building that the city spent $22 million to convert into the Lincoln Annex School.
But if St. Peter’s is going to have an unprecedented level of cooperation with Robert Wood Johnson through a partial merger, residents fear the deed restriction could be renegotiated.
“Deed restrictions can always be changed by the parties,” said one person at the meeting. “It’s possible the Catholic Church could block and stop the sale. It’s also possible the Catholic Church could support and acquiesce to the sale.”
To throw another wrinkle into the situation, residents on Monday night voiced their concern over how a new building to house the displaced Lincoln Annex School students could get built if the state entity that builds schools, the Schools Development Authority, is out of money.
Members pointed to Redshaw School, which was replaced after state officials finally found enough money about 10 years after the city got the OK to raze the old building, as a cautionary tale.
Board of Education members stated at the Nov. 19 meeting that students could be temporarily bused to the school districts facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. That space, sometimes referred to as “The Swing Space” or “The Warehouse,” is about 1.7 miles away from the Lincoln Annex School.
Two mothers of students at the Lincoln Annex School said they don’t want their children to be bused that far. They said it would bring chaos to their families' schedules.
The Board of Education will meet today at 7 p.m. at New Brunswick High School.