NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – An ambitious, $750 million project continues to move forward after the Board of Education voted on Tuesday night to transfer Lincoln Annex, a 60-year-old school that sits on about 1.7 acres on Somerset Street, to New Brunswick Development Company.
If all goes according to plan, DEVCO will begin the process of razing the school in the fall and building the state's first free-standing cancer hospital in its place.
A replacement school with a $55 million price tag will be built on a 4.5 square-acre tract at 50 Jersey Ave.
The entire project will run an estimated $750 million and will be paid for by massive hospital chain RWJBarnabas Health.
The 6-0 vote (Jennifer Sevilla and Jennifer Shukaitis abstained and Board President Diana Solis was not at the meeting held via teleconferencing technology) was the latest step in a plan dating back to when RWJBarnabas Health and DEVCO inquired about purchasing the school at 165 Somerset Street in June.
The voted received some 11th-hour pushback from opponents, many of whom have decried having the students transfer to the Pathways Campus at 40 Van Dyke Ave. – sometimes derisively referred to as The Warehouse - while the replacement school is built.
Lilia Fernandez, a Rutgers professor, said the plan will adversely affect the school’s 750 or so students in grades 4-8 who are studying remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She spoke out about an opinion piece written by Dale Caldwell and published by TAPinto New Brunswick that evoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s name. She asked the vice president of the board if he thought King would “want to send thousands of black children to a warehouse for years to come?”
“Would he support sending them to a toxically contaminated site where they might get cancer when RWJ is up to its ears in infectious diseases, overwhelmed with public health emergency, when the state has seen at least 6,000 of its residents die, the economy is completely crippled, hundreds of thousands in New Jersey are unemployed and the children of New Brunswick are facing an unprecedented emotional, physical, psychological, economic strain,” Fernandez said. “You continue to advance the plan to disrupt their education needlessly to fulfill powerful people’s ambitions for their development projects.”
Another opponent of the plan told the board, “Corruption is contagious and unfortunately this board has an outbreak of it.”
That prompted business administrator Richard Jannarone to jump to the board’s defense.
Jannarone said he wanted to hear residents’ concerns, “not politicking and propaganda.”
“The bottom line is that this is the right thing,” he said. “This is the biggest moment that New Brunswick may ever see in the next 100 years. We will get a cancer center to serve all the residents of New Brunswick and the state of New Jersey and we will get a $55 million brand new school.”
Caldwell read a letter from the president of the Lincoln Annex PTO, who said, “We are overwhelmingly excited about the opportunity presented to build a brand new, state-of-the-art school at 50 Jersey Ave. at no cost to the taxpayers.”
Compared with Lincoln Annex, the new school will offer more space in terms of the cafeteria, multipurpose assembly room, science demonstration room, media center, nurse’s office, main office, student services, computer lab, art room and tech lab. It would also have a gym, which Lincoln Annex does not have.
The design plans for the new school would include 16,000 to 18,000 square feet for a playground, depending on which of the two designs are chosen. Lincoln Annex does not have a playground.
RWJBarnabas Health has said it’s imperative that the 12-story cancer pavilion be built adjacent to the existing health care campus on Somerset Street.
The pavilion would rise 200 feet into the air, joining the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Bristol Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital, PSE&G Children’s Specialized Hospital and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in the medical campus along the Somerset Street corridor.
Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson convened a steering committee made up of a Board of Education member, nine parents of Lincoln Annex School children, three community members, three district administrators, three Lincoln Annex staff members and the school's principal.
The committee also investigated the site at 131 Jersey Ave. One board member told TAPinto New Brunswick that area was surrounded by too much industry and she worried that there would be trucks constantly roaring past the school.