Progress and challenges ahead were the focus of the keynote address given by Scott Weiner, Transitional Chief Executive Officer of the Schools Construction Corporation at the School Facilities Conference at Rutgers University on June 6th attended by over 150 people. The conference goal was to provide up-to-date, comprehensive information on the status of the school construction program and to offer participants ways to get involved.

Mr. Weiner addressed the work that is being undertaken at SCC to correct management flaws; collaboration between agencies; the statuary changes needed streamline the program; the need to set project priorities; and changes to the project budgeting process. Mr. Weiner committed to having a funding recommendation finalized by the end of August.

Assistant Education Commissioner Gordon MacInnes, who recently was assigned responsibility for school facilities in the NJDOE, discussed the review process for the recently submitted Long Range Facilities Plans. He also highlighted the work underway to review the Facilities Efficiency Standards in order to create more flexibility for design.

Panel presentations discussed various program reforms now underway. Paul Romano, Center for Architecture and Building Science Research at NJIT, highlighted the initiatives the Center has undertaken to assist SCC in evaluating the program. Alan Mallach of the National Housing Institute and a consultant to Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, reviewed a series of proposals for legislative changes to the Facilities Act including development of community schools, blending of funding sources, and mixed and joint use school buildings.

Eileen Senn, an Industrial Hygiene Consultant and leader of the State’s Healthy Schools Committee, demonstrated the many facets of the Healthy Schools website. Lynne Strickland, Executive Director, Garden State Coalition of Schools, explained the need for additional school facilities funding for suburban, rural and other non-urban districts. At least 38 of these districts have passed local bond referenda but presently have no guarantee of state funding. Ellen Brown of the NJ Institute for Social Justice, explained efforts to train young people for jobs in the construction trades and to promote minority hiring.

Philip Beachem, President, NJ Alliance for Action and co-chair of Building Our Children’s Future, explained the goals of the collaboration and encouraged others to participate. Elizabeth Smith, Secretary, Statewide Parent Organizing Committee, highlighted activities to promote future funding for school construction.

Herb Simmens of NJIT facilitated these discussions and announced the formation of the Outdoor Space Committee to study play space and parking needs. ELC and DOE will work with NJIT on this project. ELC’s Joan Ponessa wrapped up the conference by encouraging all participants to contact any of the presenters and to join one or more of the groups working to improve the school construction program. She also encouraged everyone to contact Legislators to explain the importance of the program.

The event was sponsored by the Public Education Institute, Education Law Center, the Center for Architectural and Building Science Research at NJIT, Association for Children of New Jersey, Garden State Coalition of Schools, and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.

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