NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—For the past six years, nearly 1,000 New Brunswick elementary school children have been taking classes inside of a 100,000 square foot industrial warehouse that New Brunswick politicians like to call a school.
And this year will be no different.
Referred to as the “swing space,” the warehouse at 40 Van Dyke Avenue has served as a “temporary” school while the city and state failed to keep up with overcrowding.
One the biggest challenges that the families of students at Redshaw Elementary School are struggling with is the distance to the school.
Students used to be able to walk to the former school, located in the heart of their neighborhood. And although busing is provided, it can be difficult for parents to visit the school all the way across town when the majority don’t even have a car. The warehouse school is a 1.6 mile drive from the former Redshaw site, and just as long of a walk because it’s on the other side of the Northeast Corridor railroad.
There is no set timetable for the building of a new school, but officials at the state’s Schools Development Authority (SDA) say they are in the process of seeking bids for the design and construction of a new school.
According to a June press release from the SDA, the agency is moving ahead with the “long-awaited” project and anticipates it will cost $41.4 million and provide enough space for 906 students, from pre-kindergarden to fifth grade.
The proposed school will be three stories tall and offer 135,000 square-feet of space to the cramped school district.
Redshaw is one of 50 schools in New Jersey that were promised a new state-of-the-art school by the state government. But due to mismanagement and a lack of interest on the part of the last three governors, that promise has turned the state’s poorest cities against each other in an ongoing battle for funding.
The lack of support from the SDA, and its predacessor the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC), has created an unnecessary competition between urban school districts such as Trenton, Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick to get their schools built first.
The city’s 2004 Master Plan anticipated that the Redshaw school would be out of service for only one school year as a replacement was constructed on the same site.
The SCC planned to knock down the Redshaw school and almost immediately start on a new $44.3 million school that would include a $46 million early-childhood education care center, but other projects took precedence and the remaining funding ran dry quickly.
Six months after the SCC demolished the original school on Livingston Avenue in 2006, they announced the agency would run out of money long before a new Redshaw building could move forward.
In 2010, a new Redshaw school was not a priority for the new administration of Gov. Chris Christie’s, but last year the Redshaw school was one of ten stalled projects that his administration decided to move forward with.
As we reported in December, New Brunswick City Councilman Kevin Egan, who also serves as a member of the SDA’s board, said it was unlikely New Brunswick would get a new school in the near future.
“Right now I can tell you that we talked about two schools that are definitely going to be built in 2012. New Brunswick is not one of them at the moment,” he said at the final City Council meeting of last year.
Nevertheless, the project has moved forward albeit at a slow pace, finally beginning its public bidding process on June 14 of this year.
Meanwhile, for the past six years, Bob Paulus’ Wick Enterprises has been getting a fat check every year the children go to school in his “brand new” warehouses. The buildings have no playgrounds or auditoriums.
As we reported in April, Paulus owns at least 46 limited liability companies, including Wick Enterprises and another one that has pushed for a waste transfer station to be built less than a mile away from the warehouse school. Several of his companies have given generous political donations to New Brunswick and Middlesex County elected officials.
However, there is some hope for a new legitimate school building.
Recently, the new Redshaw building project is being pushed forward by the SDA. According to city spokesman Russell Marchetta, the bids are in and a contract will soon be awarded to build the brand new school for the deserving children of New Brunswick.
The construction is predicted to start in January and students could be back in a real school by September 2015, according to the city’s Board of Education.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.