NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Board of Freeholders voted unanimously to approve a $25 million grant to help fund the construction of the state’s first free-standing cancer hospital.
Freeholder Director Ronald Rios called the grant “a great investment for the county" during Thursday's meeting.
“This allows our participation from our students at the county college, our vocational schools to interact and have lab space and equipment at the Cancer Institute,” he said. “This is a positive, historic moment for Middlesex County, partnering with RWJ, Rutgers, Cancer Institute - the only cancer institute in New Jersey and this will allow our students to be able to work right there and get a great education right here in Middlesex County. I accept your comments, but I don’t agree with them.”
The move was met with opposition by a handful of county residents during the public portion of the meeting, which was held via teleconference technology,
Although the grant makes the county a partner with RWJ/Barnabas, the city of New Brunswick and DEVCO, the city’s private development firm, on the $750 million project, residents criticized the seven-member board for not taking the students of Lincoln Annex into account.
Some of the residents who spoke at Thursday's meeting said that they had appealed to the board in recent months after it came to light that there was a plan to raze the school at 165 Somerset Street and build the hospital at that location. The students are to attend the Pathways Campus on Van Dyke Ave. while a $55 million replacement school was built at 50 Jersey Ave.
“It’s kind of like a gut punch,” said Lindy Stork, a New Brunswick resident. “When we came to your meetings, we were told you had nothing to do with this (plan.) ‘Yeah we understand, but we have nothing to do with that.’ But, yeah, you apparently do.”
Others who spoke during Thursday’s meeting questioned if it was prudent to make a $25 million investment in the project during a health crisis.
“We’re in an unprecedented economic distress right now,” a county resident said. “In Middlesex County we were suffering before COVID-19. Now, under the current economic situation, we don’t’ know exactly what the suffering will be. That $25 million needs to be saved to be used more properly for residents for social services. We can’t be giving to Rutgers and DEVCO. These are entities that have plenty of money.”
Rios and County Administrator John Pulomena said that the county typically puts aside $8 million to $12 million each year for capital improvements at Middlesex County College and the vocational schools, and some of that money would be redirected to the grant.
When a New Brunswick resident asked if he could have a copy of the grant agreement, board attorney Thomas Kelso said “there is no draft of the grant agreement currently.
“As the project progresses, we will develop the conditions and the terms associated with the release of funds and there will ultimately be a grant agreement with conditions and parameters.”
Several community and Rutgers-based groups joined together in February to form the Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex. Since, several of its members have voiced their opposition during City Council and Board of Education meetings.
Their concerns range from contamination on the site of the replacement school to what they say will be a negative impact on students who will be sent to the Pathways Campus.