NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A new $55 million school that would be built to replace the Lincoln Annex would be bigger, have more parking and would include amenities such as an outdoor play area.
For all the bells and whistles that could fit in a new school, the most impressive feature might be the fact that it would not require one taxpayer dollar, city officials say.
The possibility of building a 125,000 square-foot school on Jersey Avenue is one component of a much bigger plan unveiled Tuesday at New Brunswick Development Corp. (DEVCO) offices on Albany Street.
Mayor Jim Cahill, DEVCO President Chris Paladino and Dr. Steven Libutti, the senior vice president of oncology services at RWJ/Barnabas Health and the director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, laid out a long-range project that features the construction of a $750 million Cancer Pavilion.
Officials said the site on Somerset Street that is currently home to Lincoln Annex School would be an ideal spot for the pavilion. The pavilion could be connected to the nearby Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Cancer Institute by two sky bridges.
If Lincoln Annex is to be razed to make way for the Cancer Pavilion, then the construction of a replacement school could take place on Jersey Avenue. RWJ/Barnabas Health would be footing the bill.
Cahill said a vacant lot at 131 Jersey Ave. has been identified as a potential home for the new school. Now that 121 Jersey Ave. has come onto the market, the plan could be expanded.
All told, the new school could be built on as much as 6.7 acres - far exceeding the three acres typically needed to build an urban school. The new structure would also be about 30,000 square feet larger than the Lincoln Annex. It would also increase parking (109 spaces compared to 41 lined spaces at Lincoln Annex) and finally give students an outdoor space for recess and other recreational activities. And, the Board of Education would design the new school to its specifications.
Cahill said the city invested $21 million into the purchase and renovation of the old St. Peter's school and now stands to use the site in a land swap that would net a $55 million school.
Still, the project would need the approval of the Board of Education to move forward. The board could agree to the swap or it could identify another location for the new school. Of course, it could vote not to deal away the land that the Lincoln Annex is built upon. That appears doubtful.
"You can always look at worst-case scenarios, but I’m convinced reasonable people when looking at the future of New Brunswick and the benefits of the generations that will follow, that why would you hold on to a school that is insufficient, that lacks amenities and doesn’t meet the needs of the community today in the midst of a healthcare campus?" Cahill said. "Why would you do that and not take advantage of at least doubling and almost tripling your current investment in a school facility, developing a state-of-the-art facility, getting all the amenities that you need in a school today and better accommodate the educational needs of our kids?
"People want to wonder what will happen," the mayor added. "My sense is reasonable people will agree that this is an opportunity. It is these types of opportunities that have been presented to the city for the last 30-plus years that have advanced New Brunswick to where it is today."
Paladino also raised the point that the New Jersey Schools Development Authority has run out of money and would not be able to support such a project.
"It is also critical to understand is that on a state level, there is no money for public education for new schools," he said. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a brand-new school that does not come from the taxpayers and does not look to the state for money," he said.
Cahill said it typically takes two years to build a school. But considering the fact that the board would have to create a design for the building, it's more likely it could be up and running closer to 2023.
Cahill said the site at 131 Jersey Ave. has some environmental contamination, but that it "has been cleaned to an industrial standard. It still needs some work if it's going to be a school site that is clean to a residential standard. It is not a difficult task to undertake and it's not uncommon in an urban area. These are the types of things we deal with."
The addition of a $55 million school would dovetail with the city's redevelopment plan in the Jersey Avenue corridor.
The Jersey-Handy Redevelopment Area includes a plan by developer Edgewood Properties of Piscataway to build a 112,000 square-foot, five-story office building, featuring 192 residential units and a parking garage for 420 cars between Hale and Delavan streets.
Further down the street, beginning at Sanford Street working down to Lake Street, Accurate Builders is the projected redeveloper for a 23.7-acre parcel. There will be 660 residential units constructed, with 10% planned to be set aside for low-income housing. There will be office, warehouse and commercial construction, as well as the creation of a new community park.
"We've been looking at this area to do real neighborhood transformation in an area that, quite frankly, needs it," Cahill said. "It became natural for us to take a look at the other side of the street, if you will. If New Brunswick does anything, it exercises vision in looking at what can be done to transform a city, transform a neighborhood."