NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - About 40 residents opposed to the sale of the Lincoln Annex School to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital met on Monday to discuss ways they could try to halt the potential deal.
Some residents suggested starting a petition drive or passing out flyers to other parents to inform them of the potential sale. Others suggested engaging the principal and faculty at the school. A few said they are planning to attend Tuesday night's meeting to ask the Board of Education to stop the sale.
The most vocal residents at the meeting, which was hosted by the Fifth and Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association, were parents with children in the school at 165 Somerset St.
They said that if the school was sold and subsequently closed before a replacement school could be built, it would likely disrupt their lives.
"If the school were to close, it would affect me with the distance from the school because I live very close," said Gilberto Deolmos, a mechanic who starts work at 9 o'clock each morning. "After I leave my child (at school), I have to run to my job. So, it's very inconvenient to me to put the school somewhere else. It's just going to be farther away from me and I'll be late for work. It will change everything."
Other parents, such as Yadira Garcia, fear that the 750 children in grades 3-7 would be at least temporarily dispersed among other schools - perhaps the school district's space in what is called the 40 Building or the Warehouse - where the classrooms would be overcrowded.
"It would be sad," she said "If you were to send students from that building to another, it could turn out that there's more than 25 students in a classroom. They would lose some enthusiasm and their grades will be lower. My kid is doing very well at the Lincoln Annex. They are going to honor him at the Board of Education meeting because he did well on a state exam."
Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson revealed that there have been discussions to sell the school to the state's largest health care corporation, which employs 9,000 doctors among its 34,000 employees in its 11 acute care hospitals, including the one in New Brunswick. Johnson first mentioned the possible sale a short time after the P-TECH ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Van Dyke Avenue facility on Sept. 5.
It became the topic of discussion at the Board of Education meeting last month. First, Johnson confirmed that there have been conversations about selling the school. Then, Board of Education attorney George Hendricks said that "no proposals have been made whatsoever to this district by others than verbally and rumors swirling. So, there's no official anything. If they want to buy it, they have to come to us with a proposal. They haven't." Then Board president Diana Solis said, "There's going to be no comment on this for now."
Lincoln Annex School opened in September 2016 and is the most recent school to open in New Brunswick. It was the former home to St. Peter's School. The district paid $7.4 million to buy it from the Catholic Diocese.
Business administrator and board secretary Richard Jannarone said at last month's Board of Education meeting that the district spent $22 million to refurbish the school.
In June, RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in partnership with New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), announced the development of a new, state-of-the-art, free-standing cancer pavilion in New Brunswick. The estimated cost of the project is $750 million.
Officials said the cancer pavilion will be located on property immediately adjacent to the existing Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey campus, although its exact location was not identified at the press conference to announce the project.
The Lincoln Annex School is just yards away from RWJ.
DEVCO plans to break ground on the project next autumn.
The Fifth and Sixth Ward Neighborhood Association said the best alternative would be for RWJUH to confine its expansion to a plot of land on Plum Street where it has already received approval to build a structure as tall as 250 feet. This would allow Lincoln Annex to stay in the district's hands and continue running.
The association has also identified three other locations where a new school could be built, including the plot of land near the train station that DEVCO has dubbed The Hub.
Chris Paladino, the president of DEVCO, told TAPinto New Brunswick in July that he envisions the 1.7 million square foot tract becoming a mixed-use space reminiscent of other hotspots nationally where academic, medical and corporate partners have intersected to drive economic success.
DEVCO is a private nonprofit urban real estate development company founded in the mid-1970s to serve as a catalyst for the city's revitalization. Since its inception, DEVCO has overseen nearly $1.6 billion of investment in New Brunswick, according to its website.