PATERSON, NJ – The New Jersey School Development Authority (SDA) plans to build a third new school in Paterson and will pick the location by this summer, the agency’s chief executive officer said on Wednesday.
The official, Marc Larkins, disclosed the state’s plans for the third school for Paterson while touring the location where the SDA already is working on one of the two city education projects currently on the drawing board – the new School 16 on 22nd Avenue.
In response to questions from Mayor Jeffrey Jones, Larkins said Paterson clearly needed a third new school, partly to address overcrowding problems. “We’re working on this with the district,’’ he said. “It’s in our collective court.’’
In the bitter cold of the most frigid morning of the winter, Larkins and about two dozen education officials and advocates stood on E. 20th Street and surveyed the demotion and excavation being done. Already, more than 20 buildings had been knocked down to make way for the new School 16, officials said. One last corner apartment building remained standing and that would come down in the next few days, officials said. The old School 16 would be demolished after classes end in June, officials said.
“It’s great to see something really happening on this site,’’ said Paterson’s state-appointed schools superintendent Donnie Evans.
“It’s been a long time coming,’’ said the mayor. “We’ve been hearing about this school for a long time.”
In the next two months, the SDA plans to seek construction bids on the other Paterson project – a new school at Hazel and Marshall streets.
“I know you have overcrowding and we are addressing those needs,’’ Larkins said.
The School 16 and Hazel/Marshall projects, along with plans for two other Paterson schools, had been on the state’s list of education construction projects that were ready to start back in 2009. But when Chris Christie became governor in 2010, he put a halt to all School Development Authority (SDA) projects statewide, saying the construction program was rife with waste and corruption.
In March 2011, the SDA issued a revised list of projects for the state that dropped two Paterson projects, the expansion of School 25 and a replacement for School 3. At that point, Christie said projects would proceed under new construction criteria designed to ensure the work was cost-effective and efficient. But critics have accused the state of being slow to proceed on work on those projects on the list, including School 16 and Hazel/Marshall.
Larkins said construction on School 16, which will cover about 100,000 square feet and have capacity for 650 students, would start next year and take two years to complete. The Hazel/Marshall construction would begin later on in 2013 and also take two years.
Some city education advocates on Wednesday noted that the start of work on the long-delayed Paterson projects had coincided with a gubernatorial election year and they called Wednesday's tour a political publicity stunt . But they welcomed the progress, just the same.
"It's insulting because of the length of time it's taken to get to this point and it's suspiciously close to the election,'' said Paterson school board member Jonathan Hodges. "But for the kids, we'll take it. We're grateful for everything we can get given the severe needs of our kids.''
SDA officials said the plans for School 16 had undergone little change over the past several years in terms of the building’s basic size and the education components it will include, like the classrooms and library. But Larkins said there would be some changes in the design as part of the SDA’s efforts for construction standardization, which he said would save money and accelerate the work.
Officials were reluctant to put price tags on the two Paterson projects until construction bids are received. Previous SDA estimates from several years ago put the School 16 project at $61 million and Hazel/Marshall at $42 million.
The entrance to the new School 16 would be along 22nd Avenue and the location would include outdoor play area and parking. Chris Sapara-Grant, the facilities director for Paterson Public Schools, said the entrance would include a drop-off area so that parents’ vehicles would not clog the street.
Jones asked the SDA whether the new school would have a glass and steel façade, something that he warned would look out of place in a neighborhood of older homes. The SDA officials said they had not yet designed the façade.
“Let’s take a look at the blend,’’ the mayor said.