NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Now that the Board of Education has agreed to include Lincoln Annex School in a sweeping $750 million development plan, its next step is to decide where the replacement school should be built.
The site at 131 Jersey Ave., along with possibly a part or all of 121 Jersey Ave., was identified as a location where a $55 million school could be built when Mayor Jim Cahill, DEVCO President Chris Paladino and Cancer Institute of New Jersey Director Dr. Steven Libutti rolled out the plan earlier this month.
At that meeting, Cahill said that although the site of Lincoln Annex would be the ideal location for the state's first free-standing cancer hospital, the land at 131 Jersey Ave. is contaminated and would be needed to be remediated before a school could be built there.
At some point since that Feb. 4 meeting, a vacant tract at 50 Jersey Ave. has emerged as a potential site for the new school. In fact, there seems to be momentum growing among the board members to build on that 4.25-acre space near Walgreen's.
“That’s a process that should be decided shortly,” Board attorney George Hendricks said Thursday. “I know what I would pick and I think I know what the board will pick. I don’t know if it’s available. That’s up to the powers that be. I’m not at DEVCO. I don’t know who deals with the acquisition. They’re the ones that would have to have a site to build the new school. We’re not going to give them the deed to the Lincoln school until the new school is underway.”
That deed has also been a point of contention since the possibility of razing Lincoln Annex came to light in September.
When the Diocese of Metuchen sold the former St. Peter’s school to the district in 2013 for $7.4 million, the deed carried several restrictions. For instance, it could not be used as “a topless bar” or “an x-rated movie theater.” It 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.”
At least one activist group is poised to challenge what it views as a breech 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 breech in the deed restriction is "only enforceable by the church." He also pointed out that the Cancer Pavilion to 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."
Most of Tuesday night's four-hour Board of Education meeting focused on the plan for RWJ to invest $750 million in the city. Paladino and Libutti gave the board members a presentation on the plan, that includes sending the Lincoln Annex students to the district's facility at 40 Jersey Ave. for the projected two to three years it will take to build the replacement school.
Parents, residents and activists voiced their anger over having the students sent to the site that has been referred to by some as the Learning Center, others as the Pathways School. Detractors have called it The Warehouse, although the facility has never been used for anything but educational purposes.
The building is home to 40 freshmen enrolled in the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College) program. Cahill, Gov. Phil Murphy, State Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, Middlesex County Board of Freeholders Director Ronald Rios, Middlesex County College President Mark McCormick, School Superintendent Aubrey Johnson and others attended the bright, clean, freshly painted building for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in September.
Tuesday night's meeting included a 96-minute public session in which more than 20 speakers railed against the project.
When the board declared a temporary adjournment, the meeting devolved into jeering and shouting. Two audience members were ejected. The other audience members repeated a familiar chant in their fight to stop the project: Lincoln Annex Not For Sale.
Order had been restored to the New Brunswick High School auditorium by the time the board went back into session about 25 minutes later. Only a handful of people remained in the audience - not including security.
Those few people, however, charged the board with a lack of transparency after it voted 6-0 with two abstentions to move ahead with the plan to include Lincoln Annex in the project.
Hendricks said the board gave parents, residents and activists ample chances over the past several months to state their positions.
"How many hearings did we have?" he said. "Did we hear from this opposition the last four meetings? (It was) probably four hours of comments. I mean we’ve done a lot of things in New Brunswick – four new schools. Everyone had a chance to say what they wanted to say. Could we have another hearing and another hearing? Where does it go? We know they’re opposed to it, some of them. We don’t know how many. They’re saying we’re not transparent? What are all those people talking about the past four meetings. ‘Don’t do this? Our poor kids love this school.' Meanwhile, it’s a 50 year-old-school (actually 60) remodeled. It’s got its flaws. I’m not going to delineate them, but it has its flaws. We’re going to get a state-of-the-art, $55 million school. It’s amazing."