PATERSON, NJ – After a delay that dragged on for more than 20 months, the state is resuming work on the new school at Marshall and Hazel streets.
New Jersey’s Schools Development Authority (SDA) has told an environmental consulting firm to restart the removal of contaminated soil at the site where work was interrupted during the winter of 2010 because of cost overruns involving the cleanup, officials said. The environmental site work should be done by November, said Andrea Pasquine, an SDA spokeswoman.
“I hope they work double time,’’ said Irene Sterling, of the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy group. “The school was supposed to be built already. We have a lot of catching up to do to meet the needs of Paterson children.’’
“It’s bittersweet,’’ said Fernando Martinez of Paterson Education Organizing Committee. “We’re really happy that they’re going to move forward with the Marshall Street project, but we don’t understand why it took so long.’’
After the initial delay over the contaminated soil expense, the project then remained in limbo for about a year as part of the Christie administration’s statewide freeze on school construction projects. Even after the governor in February named Marshall Street as one of 10 projects around the state that would move forward, it took another six months for work to resume.
The SDA already has spent about $12.9 million on Marshall Street, a school that was supposed to cost about $42.5 million. That figure is likely to change, as have estimates on other schools around the state, as a result of the SDA’s new criteria for school design.
Under the original plans, the Marshall Street School would accommodate about 640 student in 31 classrooms and would include a gymnasium, cafetorium, media center, and music, art, computer lab, technology room, and science lab.
Christie also approved a $61 million replacement for School No. 16, but the SDA is still engaged in property acquisition for that job, officials said. Other Paterson proposals that had been highly-ranked on the state’s construction list prior to freeze are no longer on the priority list. That includes $32 million for an addition and renovations for elementary school No. 25 and a $65 million replacement for School No. 3.
Local education officials and advocates say that many Paterson schools fail to meet state standards and local education officials and advocates insist the city needs a massive infusion of state funding. Under a Supreme Court decision, it’s state’s responsibility to pay for school construction projects in Paterson and other disadvantaged cities.
The problems include leaky roofs, drafty windows, and crumbling exteriors. Sterling called School 14 a “fire-trap” because there’s only one exit, a narrow central stairway. “That school isn’t even on the state’s radar screen,’’ Sterling said.
Beyond safety and comfort problems, many schools lack the technological capacity to give city children an education that will make them competitive in the highly technical society, advocates said.
Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges pointed out that enrollment in Paterson continues to rise, exacerbating overcrowding issues. He said it likely will take a couple years before the Marshall Street School is ready to open.
“I don’t need progress, I need schools,’’ Hodges said.
The flooding after Hurricane Irene exacerbated Paterson’s education facilities problems. Some students had to be relocated from the old downtown mall building that housed HARP and STARS academies because of leaky roofs.
More dramatic has been the shutdown of School No. 4. At the earliest, School 4 may be ready to reopen in January, if at all, officials said. School 4 students have been sent to three other buildings in the city.
Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo said state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans has been working with the SDA to address the district’s “urgent facilities needs.’’
“The newer issues resulting from the flood (HARP/Stars and School 4) plus an increase of approximately 400 students (mostly enrolled in our high schools), has made our needs ever more urgent,’’ Corallo said.