SDA Green-Lights 10 School Construction Projects

The Schools Development Authority is back in business, but what happened to the other 42 projects on its original list?

New Brunswick’s Redshaw School, now housed in a prefabricated industrial building, made the list. Phillipsburg’s high school and its infamous collection of classroom trailers did not.

As Gov. Chris Christie yesterday restarted New Jersey’s massive school construction program after more than a year, Jersey City and Paterson each won approval for the design and construction of two new schools.

But neither Camden nor Trenton won any at all.

Christie and Marc Larkins, head of the Schools Development Authority (SDA) that will lead the work, announced that 10 school projects costing an estimated $585 million would recommence after a year in which the court-mandated construction program was all but stopped.

But while there were some words of relief and even cheers from advocates and educators, the announcement left as many questions as answers as to how these schools were chosen and what would come next.

Christie did indicate that more schools would be added to the list, and that need and cost-efficiency were driving the decisions. He also said that standardized design would be part of the construction process.

The approved schools are:

  • Bridgeton – Cherry Street Elementary School
  • Elizabeth – Academic Magnet High School
  • Long Branch – Catrambone Elementary School
  • Jersey City – P.S. 20 Elementary School
  • Jersey City – Elementary School 3
  • New Brunswick – A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School
  • Newark – Oliver Street Elementary School
  • Paterson – Marshall & Hazel Elementary School
  • Paterson – P.S. Number 16 Elementary School
  • West New York – Harry L. Bain Elementary School
  • Still, it was a significant paring down of a list of 52 schools that had been given the green light in 2008 under Gov. Jon Corzine.

    New Rules

    Christie stressed that the SDA was now operating under different rules. He appointed Larkins, a former federal prosecutor in his office, to reform the scandal-plagued agency, and he said new controls and guidelines were in place.

    “The era of McGreevey, Codey and Corzine, where each district developed a wish list of the perfect school they wanted, is ending now,” he said.

    He and Larkins said these 10 schools met the criteria of both educational need and cost efficiency, and would proceed immediately. Construction of a new high school in Elizabeth and an elementary school in Long Branch could start this year.

    “We are going to get back to building schools this year,” Christie said.

    But when asked what put these schools ahead of the other 42 that had been on the 2008 list, Christie and Larkins only promised that details were to come.

    “They were not ready,” Christie said in general of the projects not cleared. “They do not meet the standard of need or efficiency.”

    But what about Phillipsburg High School, for instance, with its nearly 40 trailers and a poster child for the stalled program?

    “It was a poster child because they made it a poster child,” Larkins said. “Quite frankly, there are issues with that project above and beyond. Cost is a big issue, but there are other issues, too.”

    Head of the Class

    One school not even on the 2008 list suddenly jumped to the head of the class: West New York’s Harry L. Bain Elementary School. The city’s high school did not.

    That left some Democrats incredulous, especially in South Jersey where only a Bridgeton elementary school was cleared to proceed.

    “Apparently the kids in North Jersey are much worse off than those in South Jersey?” said state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), who heads the school construction subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Public Schools.

    “I was shocked to see this,” he said. “A nine to one difference? None from Camden, Gloucester City, Burlington City?”

    State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) wasn’t very pleased about the Essex County representation, either, with only the Oliver Street School in Newark getting the go-ahead. She cited the 100-year-old Cleveland Street School in Orange still waiting for a replacement.

    “If this school does not qualify for funding under the governor’s new prioritization system, then I cannot wait to see what standards this system is based upon,” she said in a statement.

    And even some of those that won approval were cautious to what was coming next. Christie said there would be far greater standardization of designs in the coming projects, with district choosing from a couple of possible prototypes for elementary, middle and high schools.

    In Paterson, Irene Sterling has led the fight for new schools in that district as the president of the Paterson Education Fund, and she said yesterday she was “delighted” at the prospect of two long-stalled projects finally restarting after nearly a decade.

    But at this rate, she added, the rest of the slated projects for the district won’t be completed until 2026.

    “We look forward to working with the Governor and the SDA to accelerate the process of providing 21st century learning environments for all of Paterson’s children,” she said.