NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The plans to relocate Lincoln Annex students to the school district's facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. had just reached several of the parents before the start of the Unidos Por Escuelas Dignas meeting.
Their voices - mostly speaking in Spanish - were filled with emotion in response to the breaking news that under a plan unveiled Tuesday morning, it could take upward of three years before a $55 million state-of-the-art school was completed on Jersey Avenue.
In the meantime, plans would move ahead to raze Lincoln Annex and build a state-of-the-art cancer treatment and research facility on the parcel.
"So now the parents are angry," said Yolanda Hernandez, founder of the group, which loosely translates into English as United For Worthy Schools. The kids, too, are very sad because they don't know where they are going to next year in September. I feel very, very sad because definitely the city and everyone needs to think about the kids. We are a community, too."
Eight women identified themselves as mothers with children at Annex School when asked for a show of hands at the beginning of the three-hour meeting.
They spent much of the meeting speaking about ways they can try to stop the plan from progressing, including launching a letter-writing campaign aimed at Bishop James Francis Checchio and asking him not to lift the deed restriction placed on the site when it sold the school to the city for $7.4 million. Under the restriction, the site must be used solely as a school for 50 years starting at the time of the sale in 2013.
Other ideas included speaking out at the school board meeting on Feb. 25 and holding a rally outside City Hall before Wednesday night's City Council meeting.
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, said a proposed $750 million Cancer Pavilion would tower 12 stories and cover about 510,000 square feet.
Lincoln Annex is located yards from RWJUH's front door, making it the ideal place for the pavilion because, as Cahill said at Tuesday's meeting, "Cancer doesn't travel well."
The construction of the school on Jersey Avenue and the Cancer Pavilion on Somerset Street would not use even a single dollar of taxpayer money, Cahill said Tuesday.
Still, parents their experience walking their children to school at Lincoln Annex is priceless. They say the Van Dyke Avenue facility is too far to walk to.
Cahill said, however, that based on data he has been able to see, "as many if not more (students) live closer to this facility (on Jersey Avenue) than Lincoln Annex."
No matter what happens, the deal cannot move forward without the approval of the Board of Education. In fact, Hernandez has scheduled a meeting with Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson next week.
"The message for the superintendent is please don't move the kids before you build a new building," she said. "Please don't move the kids until you have built a replacement school first. Build a new building, a new school - then you can move the kids. But don't move them to Van Dyke Avenue and drop them there for two or three years and we don't know what's happening with them there."