By: Shavar D. Jeffries, Board Chair, Newark Public Schools
      David G. Sciarra, ELC Executive Director

For decades, Newark students have attended school in buildings that are among the oldest, most obsolete and dangerous in New Jersey, if not the nation. Spurred by a ruling in the landmark Abbott v. Burke case, the State of New Jersey in 2002 launched a school construction program to build new or renovate schools in Newark and other urban and middle income communities across the state.

Newark’s “long range facilities plan,” as approved by the NJ Department of Education, calls for approximately 40 new school buildings and 30 major addition and renovation projects to alleviate severe overcrowding and other deplorable conditions that directly impact the quality of education available to the city’s students.

Over the last five years, the State has built and opened five new schools in Newark’s facilities plan: Science Park High School (2006); First Avenue Elementary School (2007), Central High School (2008), Park School (2009) and Speedway Elementary School (2010). Hundreds of Newark students are now housed in a safe and healthy facility, with adequate classrooms, libraries, cafeterias and other space necessary for a 21st Century learning environment. Thousands more, however, continue to attend school in substandard, inadequate and obsolete school buildings that are filled beyond capacity.

Since 2003, the State school construction agency – the Schools Development Authority (SDA) – has spent over $100 million to prepare sites and designs to replace many other dilapidated buildings in Newark’s plan. Four of these projects, in particular, proceeded with site acquisition and design, and the projects were fully funded in 2008 by the State Legislature. These projects are now “shovel ready,” which means the SDA can begin actual construction. In January 2010, however, Governor Christie ordered the SDA to stop work on the four projects, along with more than 45 other projects across the state, even though the Legislature had already provided funding for the projects.

The four stalled Newark projects are:

  • South Street School: this new PreK-2 school will accommodate an enrollment of 463 students in the East Ward of Newark, and will complement the new Oliver Street School
  • Oliver Street School: this East Ward school will serve an enrollment of 868 students in grades 3-8. When finished, the Oliver and South Street Schools will operate as a combined PreK-8 school to relieve serious overcrowding in the Ironbound and provide desperately-needed early childhood classrooms in the community
  • West Side High School: before 2008, the project was fully designed as a major addition to and complete renovation of the existing high school building to address overcrowding and the outmoded condition of the structure. In 2009, SDA determined that the project would be more cost-effective as a new building replacement which would require complete re-design. When completed, the new school will serve 1600 West Ward students, grades 9-12.
  • Elliott Street School: this desperately needed new school will serve 600 PreK-8 students in the North Ward, consolidating students dispersed when the existing building was destroyed by fire in July 2006. This project is designated by SDA as “high priority,” slated to be built through an innovative “design-build” construction method. The project has been ready for construction since 2009.

These four projects are urgently needed, and long overdue, The State has already invested millions in site preparation, planning and design to bring them to the “shovel ready” stage. In addition to providing many schoolchildren – and their teachers – with safe and adequate schools, moving forward will generate construction and other jobs for Newark residents, and contracts for minority and women-owned firms. And building these schools will have a positive impact on the quality of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Newark students, and the community, have waited far too long for this very basic education reform. We urge all those concerned about the Newark public schools to let Governor Christie know that it’s time to build Newark’s “shovel ready” new schools.

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Sharon Krengel
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973-624-1815, x240