Nearly $3 billion in planned school building projects across New Jersey have effectively been put on hold in the early weeks of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.
The new governor said today that more than a dozen existing projects—including Camden, Paterson and the Egg Harbors—have continued work under their design or construction contracts through the state’s School Development Authority (SDA).
But with a new round of SDA borrowing on the horizon, Christie said no new contracts have been signed for more than a month, if not longer, as his new appointees take office and start reviewing all expenses in the controversial authority.
The edict affects more than 40 approved projects in urban districts falling under the Abbott v. Burke court order mandating the state’s construction program, officials said. They include a new kindergarten center in New Brunswick, a middle school in Gloucester and a magnet high school in Elizabeth, including parking deck. (View the SDA’s capital funding plan and its list of active construction projects.)
In announcing a sweeping review of all 700 state authorities, Christie specifically said that he’d be taking a hard look at the SDA, which has handled more than $10 billion in school projects over the last decade but has been accused of widespread waste and mismanagment.
“That’s why I put a new person in charge of the SDA, why I put a prosecutor in charge of SDA,” Christie said at the Statehouse press conference.
His new appointee to run the agency—former assistant U.S. attorney Marc Larkins—is expected to be formally approved and attend his first meeting of the SDA board on March 3.
“I’ve asked Marc Larkins to make a complete assessment of all commitments made up to now, and not to make any new commitments,” Christie said of the appointee, who worked under the governor when he was federal prosecutor.
One of Christie’s first executive orders as governor was a veto of the SDA’s nearly $1.3 million change-order for the completion of the new Burlington City High School. The project has seen more than $18 million in change orders, nearly doubling the cost to $47 million.