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Superintendent Backs Off Plans to Use Warehouse as Elementary School

Several Fifth-Grade Classes Will Instead Be Relocated to McKinley Community School
Superintendent Johnson
Superintendent Aubrey Johnson New Brunswick Board of Education

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Superintendent Aubrey Johnson confirmed that the city school district is backing off its plan to use a warehouse building on Van Dyke Avenue as an elementary school this year.

The "warehouse school" had previously hosted students while a new elementary school and new high school were constructed, sparking opposition from parents and community leaders.

Students finally left the warehouse when the new Redshaw Elementary School opened in January, but officials indicated it might be brought back into service to combat overcrowding in September.

Instead, Johnson says the district has "found some additional seats" inside the McKinley Community School, a K-8 facility also located on Van Dyke Avenue.

The new superintendent says some fifth-grade classes will be re-located to McKinley, and some students who were previously being bused to the district's Middle School will also be sent there.

"The only school that may be a little over[crowded] will be the Middle School," Johnson told New Brunswick Today.

Johnson said the district is looking into the possibility of doing special programs at the warehouse for "gifted and talented" children in New Brunswick, but that he was not in favor of using it as a full-time school due to concerns about the safety and layout of the building.

The Lincoln Elementary School on Bartlett Street is the district's oldest facility, and it has also been the most overcrowded in recent years.

Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that some or all of Lincoln's students might find themselves in the warehouse school this fall.

Under previous Superintendent Richard Kaplan, the Board of Education had pursued plans to open a new school about eight blocks away from Lincoln, at the site of the St. Peter's private school campus that closed five years ago.

But towards the end of Kaplan's tenure, it became clear that the new school would not be ready in time for the 2015-2016 school year, forcing Johnson and the Board of Education to adapt.

First predicted for a September 2015 opening, officials then said they hoped to open the new school would be ready by January 2016.  Now, Johnson says he is backing off of that timeline.

"It looks like we will be able to open the [former St. Peter's] school for summer school," said Johnson.

At his first Board of Education meeting since taking office July 1, Johnson said he was "re-evaluating" the moves the district would be making regarding facilities.

"There were some plans on the table but we have now decided to re-evaluate those plans and have some feedback from the community," Johnson at the time.

The warehouse school, which officials refer to as the "swing space," has never been used as anything but a school, though it was designed to be a warehouse.

New Brunswick Today attempted to learn more about the situation at the August 21 meeting of the Board of Education's "Facilities Committee," but it was abruptly cancelled when Committee Chairman Edward Spencer failed to show up.

Board members who did show were non-committal about the timeline for opening the new school, and about the potential uses of the warehouse, but the meeting was re-scheduled due to Spencer's absence.

George Hendricks, the attorney for the Board of Education, clarified that members of the public are not permitted to attend committee meetings "unless specifically invited."

Johnson said that he will again re-evaluate the overcrowding situation on October 1, but also indicated he does not want to move kids from one facility to another during the school year if he can help it.

"I'm not for moving kids around once the school year starts," Johnson told New Brunswick Today.