NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Diocese of Metuchen said it has contacted the city concerning the plans to raze Lincoln Annex School and build the state’s first free-standing cancer hospital in its place.
The diocese’s connection to this sprawling, $750 million project centers around the deed restrictions set forth when it sold the old St. Peter’s school to the school district for $7.4 million in 2013.
For example, the site could not be used as “a topless bar” or “an x-rated movie theater.” The deed also came to contain language that the site had to be used “solely for public education purposes or for public administrative offices for no less than 50 years.”
It’s unclear if the proposed 12-story Cancer Pavilion, which would be home to state-of-the-art research facilities that would be home for dozens of world-class researchers, fits that definition.
According to a statement provided to TAPinto New Brunswick from a diocesan spokesperson, “We have heard, indirectly, of the New Brunswick Board of Education’s plans and have contacted the City of New Brunswick, and while we have not yet received any formal proposal or inquiries from them, we expect that we will have an opportunity to listen to them and learn more about their plans. We have read in local news reports they are proposing that students be relocated to a campus that, in the past, has served as a school facility, while a new state-of-the-art school building is constructed.”
TAPinto New Brunswick has requested a comment from a city spokesperson but has not received one.
Mayor Jim Cahill, DEVCO President Chris Paladino and Cancer Institute of New Jersey Director Dr. Steven Libutti rolled out plans to build the 12-story Cancer Pavilion at a meeting on Feb. 4.
The board of education voted to include Lincoln Annex, which is across the street from the Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, in the plan.
Students from Lincoln Annex will use the district’s facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. which a new school is built. The board has identified two locations for the replacement school. The site at 131 Jersey Ave. is contaminated and would need to be remediated before construction began. The board is also considering the site at 50 Jersey Ave.
Several community groups and activist organizations formed what it is calling itself the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex in an attempt to put a halt to the plan. Many of the members who have spoken at school board, City Council and Rutgers Board of Governors meetings want the replacement school to be built before Lincoln Annex is torn down.
The members of the coalition launched a letter-writing campaign to Bishop James F. Checchio, asking him to uphold the deed restriction on Lincoln Annex.
At least one activist group is poised to challenge what it views as a breach of that deed restriction.
Juan Cartegena, the president and general counsel LatinoJustice PRLDEF, has sent a letter addressed to Board President Diana Solis and the rest of the board members. In the letter - a copy of which has been obtained by TAPinto New Brunswick - LatinoJustice points out what it believes to be “violations of the restrictive covenant demanded by the grantor of the property.”
Hendricks said that a breach in the deed restriction is "only enforceable by the church." He also pointed out that the Cancer Pavilion that will be built on the site would be home to vast research facilities, thus fulfilling the deed's education requirement.
"The church could say, 'Hey, the cancer hospital is not an institute of higher learning,'" Hendricks said. "I think I can defend that if the church sued us. But, I don’t think they’re going to."
Here is the full statement from the Diocese of Metuchen:
"The Diocese of Metuchen and the Catholic pastors of the parish communities that serve the City of New Brunswick have heard the concerns voiced by coalition members on behalf of the Lincoln Annex School community and have responded to the letters we received.
"For decades, the diocese and parishes in the City of New Brunswick have maintained a special connection to the immigrant community and have worked closely with them to ensure equity in all aspects of life, including education. Together, we will continue to support the human rights and dignity of all people, including the care for and the welcoming of our immigrant brothers and sisters. The Catholic pastors of New Brunswick, who have great love for the people whom they serve day in and day out, are committed to listening to and accompanying the people they serve.
"We have heard, indirectly, of the New Brunswick Board of Education’s plans and have contacted the City of New Brunswick, and while we have not yet received any formal proposal or inquiries from them, we expect that we will have an opportunity to listen to them and learn more about their plans. We have read in local news reports they are proposing that students be relocated to a campus that, in the past, has served as a school facility, while a new state-of-the-art school building is constructed.
"We have deep respect for all people involved – immigrant families, the Board of Education, the school community, our pastors, the coalition, and Mayor Cahill – and are open to beginning the dialogue. Together with St. Peter the Apostle University and Community Parish, which also serves the Catholic students of Rutgers University, we remain committed to the careful study of any proposals that come to us."