PISCATAWAY, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy has signed legislation that would allow the Educational Services Commission of New Jersey (ESCNJ) to take ownership of the Piscataway Regional Day School.
The legislation deems the school building and its 5.5-acre property as state surplus, and could best be used by ESCNJ, which has been the long-term tenant, at 1670 Stelton Road, since 1984. ESCNJ plans to modernize the building and to retrofit the structure to serve the growing needs of the specialized school population.
“We are very appreciative of Governor Murphy and our 17th District legislators who sponsored this bill,” said ESCNJ Schools Superintendent Mark Finkelstein. “As we now explore how best to enhance this building, our students will certainly benefit. And so will New Jersey taxpayers, who will no longer be responsible for funding the maintenance of a structure nearing 50 years old.”
Finkelstein added the property includes walking paths, exercise stations and fields for students and staff. That tract will now be improved for recreational opportunities as part of ESCNJ’s specialized physical education curriculum and Community-based instruction.
The site has its roots from World War II, when it served as a portion of Camp Kilmer, a training ground for soldiers. The federal government then earmarked the property to New Jersey to construct the Piscataway Regional Day School in the early 1970s, one of 10 regional day schools around the state that served students with severe disabilities.
The day school became part of the Middlesex County Educational Services Commission – the precursor to ESCNJ – in 1984, with the state then offering five-year lease agreements. The federal government also allotted the surrounding land to the educational services commission, as its services steadily grew from decade to decade.
The site, including the Piscataway Regional Day School, has blossomed into a bustling 19-acre campus, with a daytime population of an estimated 700 students, teachers, administrators and staff.
The campus – the hub of ESCNJ’s statewide operation – also includes the Bright Beginnings Learning Center, the Future Foundations Academy, the Adult Community Services Center and the newly-opened Professional Conference Center. In addition, the site houses ESCNJ’s Department of Non-Public School Services, accommodating 110 non-public schools, with
5,000 students in eight counties. There’s also ESCNJ’s transportation department, serving 13,000 students daily, as well as ESCNJ’s administrative offices.
“With Governor Murphy’s support, we now have the flexibility to do long-term planning for the day school building,” Finkelstein said, noting the structure now serves 125 students, ages 13-21, from 27 school districts. “There’s now a clean slate, in which we can assess our facility needs and determine how best this school can be used to enhance our overall mission.”
In addition, with the adopted legislation, ESCNJ can now rename the building to be in keeping with the branding of its other schools, designed to reflect optimism and progress, such as the Center for Lifelong Learning in Parlin and the NuView Academy in Piscataway.
The bill, (S. 2520/A. 4405) was sponsored by the 17th District state lawmakers, who represent Piscataway, including Sen. Bob Smith and Assembly members Nancy Pinkin and Joe Danielson.
“ESCNJ provides the best services in the State of New Jersey for children with developmental disabilities, helping to make them more productive and integrating them totally into society,” Smith said. “ESCNJ has been investing millions of dollars in its schools and facilities.”
But with the Piscataway Regional Day School under the auspices of the state Department of Education over the years, the senator noted unnecessary bureaucracy whenever ESCNJ wanted to improve the building. “The state Department of Education would have to review all applications, process them and have a myriad of bureaucratic procedures. Now that will be eliminated.”
Under the adopted legislation, the senator said, ESCNJ can now freely make all of its own decisions regarding the school, putting improvements in place under a more efficient system to serve its students.
Pinkin said she has been an ongoing supporter of the ESCNJ for its statewide reach and its ability to save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars a year through its purchasing co-op and shared services program. But one of the key reasons she sponsored the bill was based on her most recent tour of one of the ESCNJ schools.
“I saw a five-year-old girl with severe disabilities who was unable to use her hands,” Pinkin recalled. “But she was able to touch a keyboard, which prompted a mechanical arm to deliver food to her mouth. This little girl was able to feed herself because of ESCNJ and the technology they embrace. The look of accomplishment on her face is something that I will never forget. So, I am always more than happy to help ESCNJ fulfill its mission in any way I can.”