NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Several residents and activists who addressed the Rutgers Board of Governors on Tuesday said that the proposed expansion of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey unfairly pits the interests of cancer patients against city students.
The speakers were part of the 75 or so people who crammed into Winants Hall to voice their opposition to a plan to build a $750 million Cancer Pavilion on the site of the Lincoln Annex School on Somerset Street.
After the public comment session of the meeting was over, the members of the board and other University leaders began to leave the room to enter executive session without commenting on the audience members’ concerns.
As the university’s leaders began to file out, the audience began to yell out, “Respond!” and “We need answers!”
The room soon echoed with the chants of “Lincoln Annex not for sale!”
Mayor Jim Cahill, DEVCO president Chris Paladino and Rutgers Cancer Institute Director Dr. Steven Libutti unveiled plans for the 12-story Cancer Pavilion at a meeting at DEVCO offices on Feb. 4. The pavilion would be built on the site of Lincoln Annex at 165 Somerset St.
Officials have identified property at 131 Jersey Ave. and part or all of 121 Jersey Ave. as land where a replacement school could be built. The site 131 Jersey Ave. has some contamination that would need to be cleaned before construction, Cahill said.
RWJ Barnabas Health would pay for the pavilion and the school.
Many who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said they oppose sending the students in Grades 4-8 to the school district’s facility at 40 Van Dyke Ave. while the new school is constructed.
Many of the speakers said that while they support a 510,000 square foot center for cancer treatment and research, it shouldn’t impact the students.
“The expansion of the Cancer Institute is a great project for our community,” said Jerry Mercado, a candidate for the Board of Education. “Hopefully it will bring jobs to the New Brunswick and obviously to the cancer patients. But it should not be on the backs of the children of Lincoln Annex, which some of them are here today.”
One mother of a Lincoln Annex sixth-grader said, “I am not against the cancer center, but you’re moving the school to a place that is difficult to get to. I know this is a big project for all of you but you cannot displace our children to a different place.”
Others said the plan would mostly impact working-class Latino and Hispanic residents.
Rutgers professor Lilia Fernandez told the board that this was a case of gentrification.
“Why is Rutgers aiding and abiding, I ask you, the selling out of children’s education proposing their school be built on a brownfield site on the other side of town?” she said. “Is it because they’re brown? Is it because they’re poor? Is it because they’re immigrants?”
Many of the people at Tuesday's meeting had been part of a rally and march that started at Lincoln Annex at 10 a.m.
According to a statement released after the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, "While Rutgers is not the project developer, the University fully supports an outcome that will address the educational needs of families in our community by providing them with a state-of-the-art elementary school as quickly as possible and with as little disruption as possible, and an outcome that provides the community with high-quality clinical care the hospital expansion will bring to New Brunswick, New Jersey and beyond."