NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Plans to build New Jersey’s first hospital dedicated exclusively to cancer care have not been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Jim Cahill told TAPinto New Brunswick on Thursday.

Although the spread of the coronavirus has certainly demanded the attention and resources of massive hospital chain RWJBarnabas Health – which is footing the bill for the $750 million Cancer Pavilion project – Cahill said that the plan remains to have the 12-story building up and ready to treat patients by 2023.

“As of now, all systems are go,” Cahill said. “The design teams and the construction teams, if you will, the people who are going to be doing the construction. All of the documents that are necessary. All the plans that are necessary. All of the teams that are assembled to be working on these things are all moving at the same pace they were before.

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“Recognize that the people who work on these things are not doctors and nurses in large part. Although Dr. (Steven) Libutti is certainly a part of the team. But they are the people that are charged with the responsibility. They are architects. They are construction folks. They are administrators. They are finance people, etc.”

Cahill and Libutti, the director of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and DEVCO President Chris Paladino rolled out the plan to construct the 510,000 square foot hospital at a meeting at DEVCO offices in February.

The Cancer Pavilion would also be a hub for cancer research, with dozens of teams of world-class scientists working on breakthroughs in treatments and medicines under one roof.

The pavilion would rise some 200 feet into the air, joining 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.

Lincoln Annex School, which is home to about 750 students in grades 4-8 on Somerset Street, would be razed to make way for the Cancer Pavilion.

Cahill said the current race to find a cure for COVID-19 – which state officials said Thursday has infected 25,590 people and left another 537 dead in New Jersey alone – should provide a chilling reminder why the Cancer Pavilion is such a crucial project.

“Everybody is up in arms and ready to fight and do all we can to make whatever we can to fight it possible,” he said. “What's amazing to me, and quite frankly alarming is the sentiment of these people who talk in opposition to Lincoln Annex, and how casual and blasé they are about the 52,000 people who are diagnosed with cancer in the state of New Jersey every year and the 16,000 people who die from cancer every year in the state of New Jersey. Somehow the urgency that we all feel and appropriately so for COVID-19, somehow doesn't transmit to these folks in any way when it comes to fighting cancer.”

It has been estimated that it would take about three years to build the replacement school. While construction continued, those students would attend the Pathways Campus at 40 Van Dyke Ave. It is home to the 40 high school students enrolled in the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program.

Two properties have been identified as sites for a $55 million replacement school: 50 Jersey Ave. and 131 Jersey Ave. with perhaps all or part of 121 Jersey Ave. The sites are contaminated and would need to be remediated before construction could start.

To help choose which site should house the replacement school, Superintendent of Schools Aubrey Johnson has convened a steering committee comprised 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.

Other parents and activists are trying to stop the razing of Lincoln Annex for a number of reasons. Some critics who have attended rallies and Board of Education meetings since the fall have derided the Pathways Campus as “a warehouse” and said the children’s educations would be negatively impacted by studying there.

The interior of the school appeared to be bright, new and freshly painted in September when it hosted Gov. Phil Murphy, various state and county officials and reporters at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to launch the P-Tech program.

Other critics have publicly wondered if the students are going to be sent to school on contaminated land so that they can one day become patients at the Cancer Pavilion.

“The Pathways Campus is every bit of an adequate school and certainly is as good as Lincoln Annex.,” Cahill said. “And to say that the city of New Brunswick or the Board of Education is going to put students onto a contaminated piece of property is just bizarre. That the folks of this administration and the school board and DEVCO and much less the hospital community - they're all people who have done nothing but serve the community for decades and decades and decades. The hospital communities that provided so much in charity care to those most in need for free.

“That all of a sudden, these institutions, these people that worry about them are somehow painted with an evil brush and they're going to forget all that - I've heard a couple of people at a Board of Education meeting say the hospitals are doing this on purpose, to put them on a cancer site so that the kids get cancer so that they can make money at the Cancer Institute. My God how, how crazy is that?”