NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The definition and condition of the building the school district uses at 40 Van Dyke Ave. came into question at Wednesday night's City Council meeting.
Council vice president Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig and council member Rebecca Escobar said it should be referred to as a school, even though several residents have been derisively calling it a "warehouse” since plans to move students to the facility from Lincoln Annex School were announced.
Lincoln Annex at 165 Somerset St. would be razed and the state’s first free-standing pavilion for treating cancer patients and doing cancer research would be built, according to plans unveiled Feb. 4 by Mayor Jim Cahill, DEVCO President Chris Paladino and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Director Dr. Steven Libutti at a meeting at DEVCO's offices.
"We do have children in that school space right now and that is their home. That is a school," Sicora-Ludwig said Wednesday. "It's not a warehouse. I think some people are being misled. Some of these children are being put into fear. They think they're going to be put in a space where there are forklifts and all sorts of traffic. I think that's a horrible thing to do to young children who don't know anybody, either."
Several residents, activists and parents asked the council at the Feb. 5 meeting to hold off from referring the matter to the Planning Board, which, in effect, was the first official step in the process of building the project. The board eventually voted unanimously to send the plan to the Planning Board.
Many who spoke that night said they want the replacement school build before Lincoln Annex is cleared to make way for the Cancer Pavilion. Others have indicated they think their students' education will be negatively impacted by having to attend the facility.
One of them said she was opposed to the “warehousing” of students.
Council President John Anderson, who said the Van Dyke Avenue space has never been used for any other purposes but for education, referred to it as a “learning center.” It has also been informally called a “swing space,” presumably because of its versatility.
It has been used at various points as classroom space for students from Redshaw, Robeson and the middle school. It is currently home to 40 students enrolled in the district's P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program.
The district gave members of the media and others tours of the facility at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the P-TECH program in September. The event was attended by Gov. Phil Murphy, Department of Education Commissioner Lamont O. Repollet, Middlesex County College President Mark McCormick, New Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson and others.
Reporters who were given guided tours and allowed into a few classrooms during the middle of science and engineering lessons found the building to be bright, clean and open. Everything from the desks to the paint on the walls seemed new.
“I think it’s misleading for people to say that it’s not a school,” Escobar said.
Escobar said she also had heard the facility referred to as a “warehouse.”
“Then I went into it,” she said, “and I saw it, that it is a place for learning.”