ESSEX COUNTY, NJ - Essex County Schools of Technology opened its newest campus Monday on the grounds of the former United Hospital Center in Newark's West Ward.

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo was joined by a host of local, state and federal officials to dedicate the Essex County Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology, a $100 million, three-story, 320,000-square-foot state-of-the-art school building.

The building will provide a modern learning environment that officials said will enable the school district to offer curriculum and fields of study in emerging professions.

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"After talking about the need for a modern building for over 40 years, we are proud to stand here in this state-of-the-art facility that will provide our students the opportunity to receive a first-class education and foundation that will benefit them the rest of their lives," DiVincenzo said.

In addition to standard classrooms, the school has specially designed spaces for career training classes including culinary arts, carpentry, plumbing and electrical systems, and cosmetology as well as emerging professions such as green energy and agricultural science, engineering, information technology, television and radio, cyber security, graphic design and public safety. 

"The fact that our school district has received four National Blue Ribbon Awards in the last six years demonstrates the high level of achievement by our students and the ongoing commitment to excellence by our teachers and staff," DiVincenzo said. 

"Their achievements are even more impressive because the classrooms where our students were preparing for the future were developed in the past, and it has been difficult adapting our changing curriculum to our antiquated buildings," DiVincenzo said. 

Essex County Schools of Technology Superintendent Dr. Jim Pedersen said the opening of the new Donald Payne School will provide space needed to offer classes that will prepare students for the competitive and changing job market.

"Our district has such a great reputation of providing our students with a strong academic foundation and this phenomenal facility will help us continue this legacy for generations to come," Pedersen said.

In one section of the school, a two-story, common learning area will be shared by the building trades that will allow students to simulate a major construction project, learn how the trades interact and provide ample space for larger projects. 

The culinary arts area includes traditional kitchen space, but also a restaurant area and storefront where the public can sample students' creations. Students studying green energy have access to a "green" roof, solar panels and greenhouse.

The Payne School will have a student body of about 1,100 students and will come from the Essex County Bloomfield Tech Campus in Bloomfield and the Essex County North 13th Street Campus in Newark. Both schools will be sold.

The building was constructed by Dobco, Inc. of Wayne at a cost of $96.2 million. It was designed by DiCara-Rubino Architects of Wayne at a cost of $4.2 million. Joseph Jingoli & Son, Inc. of Lawrenceville was paid $1.6 million to provide construction management services.

The construction is being funded through the Essex County Vocational Technical Schools' Capital Budget with 90 percent of the costs being reimbursed by the State of New Jersey. The other 10 percent is anticipated to be funded with the proceeds from the sale of Bloomfield Tech and North 13th Street School. 

The school also features an 800-seat auditorium and two gymnasiums - one gym to accommodate sporting events and an auxiliary gym for physical education classes. 

The campus also has a synthetic grass field constructed on the roof of an underground parking garage for teacher and staff parking.

The dedication ceremony drew a powerful cast of elected officials who would not normally travel great distances for the ribbon cutting of a new school. Among those in attendance included U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, state Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.

"Twenty years ago, Joe DiVincenzo envisioned a new school for this district. Through bi-partisan efforts, we are changing the lives of children," Sweeney said.

The building is named after the late U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne Sr., who died in 2012. His son, the current Congressman for the district, was on hand for the dedication.

"My father was a teacher first, and education meant everything to him, said Donald M. Payne, Jr. "There is no more fitting honor to keep his legacy alive. It's nice to name the building after someone, but what is important is what will be happening in these classrooms and the education the students receive."

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the late Congressman Payne understood education is what raises people up.

"This new school of technology will offer opportunities to today’s youth," Ruiz said. "It is important in our evolving society that we train young people for all careers, including opportunities in the sciences, the arts or the trades. Opportunity is about choices and education is about having the best choices. Congressman Payne would be proud of this school and proud it is being named after him.”

During the ceremony, four classrooms in the building were dedicated in honor of people who contributed to the school being built: The Chris Christie Law and Public Safety Center, Father Edwin Leahy Auditorium, William D. Payne Innovation Centre, and the Rev. Mamie Lee Community Café.

Erika Padilla, a junior at Essex County Bloomfield Tech she was excited to be attending Payne School in the fall. 

"I am excited to be part of the first class that will graduate from the Donald Payne School," Padilla said. "It will be an incredible experience."