Government

New Brunswick, Rutgers Leaders Look Towards 2018

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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - What’s your new year’s resolution for 2018? Maybe you want to lose some weight, eat healthier and work out more.

But what if you’re overseeing a university of 60,000 students, faculty and staff, or a city of 55,000 residents and tens of thousands more daytime commuters​?​

We reached out to Rutgers University and New Brunswick officials to get an idea.

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This January, the state​'s leadership will change from red to blue as Democrat Phil Murphy is inaugurated as governor.

For some city officials, like City Council President Glenn Fleming, this means an administration potentially more friendly to the goals of ​New Brunswick leaders.

Fleming said he hopes the Murphy administration can help push for better education within the school district’s existing system, rather than the creation of more charter schools.

“That’s taking money out of our schools system,” Fleming said. “My thing is to try to fix the schools first. It’s almost like how they do with busing, it’s like ‘okay, let’s just send them out somewhere else’ and we leave the other kids behind. You’re not fixing the schools.”

Fleming said he’d hope the administration would move away from the emphasis on PARCC standardized testing as a means to evaluate student progress.

One thing to keep your eyes peeled for: marijuana laws, something Murphy pledged to address in his first 100 days.

Decriminalization, on the one hand, is something Fleming said he’d support, but full-on legalization is something of which he’s a bit more wary.

If in six months, a business owner came to New Brunswick and wanted to open up a marijuana shop, Fleming said he’s not entirely sure if he’d be in favor.

“I believe that we should look at it, I’m not saying negative or positive, but I don’t think everybody should dive in right away,” Fleming said. “How is it going to be distributed?”

​And what are the plans for 2018 at Old Queens?​

Neal Buccino, a spokesperson for Rutgers University, said that with its roots in New Brunswick and the surrounding area, the university has a lot to offer with some of its community-partnership programs, and the hope is to keep these programs in the city going strong​ into the new year.

There’s the Senior Citizen Audit Program, which allows New Jersey residents 62 and older to sit in on any class at the university.

Rutgers officials are also hoping to roll out the 2017-2018 Community-Research Partnership Grants for the city, Buccino said, which will provide up to $25,000 in funding that’ll produce scholarly articles and community action.

Of course, there’s Rutgers Day 2018, which coincides with the New Jersey Folk Festival, and draws in tens of thousands of visitors every ​spring into New Brunswick and Piscataway, as well as the satellite campuses in Newark and Camden.​

There’s other program students can look forward to in 2018; a slew of new exhibits and events at the Zimmerli Art Museum, the February 21 opening of the Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Collection and the Douglass Residential College “Power of 100 Years” Centennial Celebration.

Rutgers officials anticipate working closely with city officials and Middlesex County to roll out the 2030 Physical Master Plan, Buccino said.

While still decades in the making, local officials anticipate one of the perks of working together will be the revival of the long under-u​sed Raritan River waterfront.

Indeed, the city’s environmental municipal access plan, approved at a September 2017 city council meeting, calls​ for the incorporation of Rutgers’ master plan designs.

Should it come into fruition, there’d be a boardwalk at Boyd Park, a pedestrian path crossing the Raritan River and bike paths stretching from the Rutgers Boathouse to the Delaware & Raritan Canal. Phase I design for all this is set to run until 2019.

These kinds of health and wellness projects are expected to start popping up over 2018. The Esperanza Project, which advocates for residents in the French Street Corridor, says one such goal is to make progress on a new Welton Street Park. Currently, the space is an empty lot.

​Progress with the park is moving along, according to Daniel Dominguez, a community development administrator with the city.

Construction is projected to start between March and May, Dominguez said, and if all goes well, the site could opened by the autumn.

Dominguez said the city also wants to continue its overhaul process for Feaster Park, a historically under​-used park at Commercial Avenue and next to the Paul Robeson School.

“​Because you’re kind of revamping the park from scratch, you really don’t want to mess that up,” Dominguez said. “You want to make sure that it’s a very nice park and meets the needs of the whole neighborhood.”

Meetings to gather public input are expected to run through the spring and summer, Dominguez said, but construction might not start until the 2019 construction season. The hope is to beautify the park and offer amenities that’d draw people to use its facilities​; the project could cost millions.

​City officials ​will continue the overhaul of Livingston Avenue, push for larger acceptance of New Brunswick’s municipal IDs and implement an Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation ordinance, which would decrease the number of vacant and abandoned houses in the neighborhood.

Fleming said he’s ​also ​looking forward to the completion of the Paul Robeson School’s renovation.

"When you see construction that's going on, you know that's a city that's alive," Fleming said. "We're not dying like other cities. I think over the years, we were a city that could've been like that, say 40 years ago, but with corporate partnerships and stuff like that, we've turned it around."

Fleming added: "We're a model for redevelopment. We want to be the model, not a model." 

"All of these efforts are focused on improving the lives of our residents and continue to move our city forward as a center of commerce, a center of culture and a place that people are proud to call home," city spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw added in a statement. 

Editor Daniel J. Munoz, dmunoz@tapinto.nettwitter.com/DanielMunoz100

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