NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The five-person City Council has taken the first formal step in a sweeping plan to build a world-class cancer facility and a state-of-the-art school in the city.
Council President John Anderson, Vice President Suzanne Sicora-Ludwig and Councilmembers Kevin Egan, Glenn Fleming and Rebecca Escobar voted at Wednesday night’s meeting to approve Resolution R-02256.
Their vote refers a redevelopment plan for three properties at the heart to the project to the Planning Board for review and report.
This starts the process on a proposed $750 million construction project in which the Lincoln Annex School would be razed and a 12-story Cancer Pavilion would be built on the parcel. A replacement school would be built on Jersey Avenue. While the new school is being constructed, students from Lincoln Annex would move to the school district’s facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave.
The council’s vote Wednesday instructs the Planning Board to look at properties at 131 Jersey Ave. and 121 Jersey Ave. – two sites identified as potential homes for the replacement school. It also instructs the Planning Board to review the Lincoln Annex site at 165 Somerset Street.
TK Shamy, attorney for the Council, said the Planning Board would prepare a report for the Board of Education, which would have the final vote as to whether Lincoln Annex would be part of any deal.
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 the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, laid out details of the project at DEVCO’s offices Tuesday.
Neither the 12-story Cancer Pavilion nor the $55 million school would use taxpayer money, officials said.
All told, the proposed new school could be built on as much as 6.7 acres – far exceeding the 3 acres typically needed to build an urban school. The new structure would also be about 30,000 square feet larger than Lincoln Annex and have more than twice as many parking spaces. Plus, the plan is to include an outdoor space for recess – something that is not available at the current site.
Libutti said the fact that Lincoln Annex is just yards away from RWJUH and the cancer institute makes it an ideal location. The hope is to have the pavilion up and running before key accreditation deadlines. This would potentially make the campus eligible for millions of dollars in grants.
Before Wednesday’s meeting began, representatives from several groups and organizations gathered on the steps of City Hall to formally create a coalition to try to put the brakes on the plan.
The group, calling itself Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex, is seeking to pressure the city government, DEVCO and Rutgers into building the replacement school before razing Lincoln Annex.
A press release issued Wednesday was signed by 25 groups and organizations, including Lazos America Unidas, New Labor, New Brunswick 5th and 6th Ward Neighborhood Association and Unidos Por Escuelas Dignas. Most of the coalition members are connected with Rutgers, including several student and labor organizations.
Many of those who gathered Wednesday spoke about their opposition to the plans to move the students to 40 Van Dyke Ave. before a new school is constructed. Several of them brandished signs with slogans such as “Put Our Kids First” and “Children Over Profit.”
Later, dozens of them filled the council chambers. Twenty or so spoke during the public comment portions of the City Council meeting. Many of them were Lincoln Annex parents and their children.
They continually referred to the facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. as a “warehouse” as they asked the council not to refer the matter to the Planning Board. Many said that moving the students to that facility would adversely affect their education.
“Would you send your kids to a warehouse?” one woman asked the council.
“It’s not a warehouse,” Anderson said.
“It is a warehouse,” several people from the audience responded.
“I’m letting you know the learning center has always been there,” Anderson said. “It has been built for a learning center. The kids that come out of there – don’t sell our students short. Don’t sell our teachers short. They do an excellent job of educating them. And when they go to the next school and move on, they do well.”
The facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. has been used at various times to house students from Redshaw, Robeson and the Middle School. It is currently home to 40 students enrolled in the district’s P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) program.
The Planning Board is scheduled to meet Monday at 7 p.m. at City Hall.