January 27, 2014

The press is reporting that Governor Chris Christie’s newly appointed school construction chief, Charles McKenna, will present plans to the Trenton board of education this evening for a complete rebuild, not repair, of unsafe and dilapidated Trenton Central High School (TCHS).

According to Mr. McKenna, “After reviewing plans for major rehabilitation, I have determined and will recommend that the better course is to build a new school that retains some of the iconic elements of the existing building that will provide the 21st-century learning environment that is required to meet the educational needs of the students.”

Mr. McKenna is the new head of the NJ Schools Development Agency (SDA), replacing Marc Larkins. This state agency is responsible under the Abbott v. Burke Supreme Court rulings for the financing and construction of school facilities improvements in 31 urban, “SDA districts,” including Trenton.

Mr. McKenna’s announcement comes four years after Governor Christie halted all school construction projects, including the planned renovation of TCHS. As the building continued to deteriorate, the SDA in 2012 announced that, rather than replace it, only emergent repairs would be done to the roof, exterior and interior. When SDA continued to drag its feet, the Trenton school board filed suit in May 2013 to compel the agency to act. The lawsuit is pending, with the SDA in December rejecting a proposal by the district to expedite the repairs.

“We are heartened by Mr. McKenna’s announcement. We now expect  him to come forward with a specific, expedited timetable for starting and completing construction of a new Trenton Central High School,” said David Sciarra, Education Law Center Executive Director. “Trenton students and faculty have suffered long enough at the hands of the SDA. They  need real action now.”    

To move the new TCHS project forward, SDA must provide the Trenton school board with the following:

  • A commitment from SDA to immediately amend its statewide strategic construction plan to put the updated TCHS project in the new construction category. TCHS is currently in the plan only as a repair project.
  • A commitment from the SDA to set aside a minimum of $100 million for the new TCHS project in its statewide strategic plan.
  • A specific timetable for starting and completing construction of the new TCHS project on an expedited basis. Plans already exist for rebuilding the new school, and the SDA should update those plans as quickly as possible, in consultation with the school board.
  • An interim plan to house TCHS students while the new school is under construction.

ELC strongly recommends that the SDA set forth these commitments in a comprehensive settlement of Trenton’s pending lawsuit and agree to ongoing court monitoring to ensure the SDA stays on course to complete this project as quickly as possible.

“Trenton and other urban communities have completely lost confidence in the SDA under Governor Christie,” Mr. Sciarra said. “To restore that confidence, the agency should settle the pending lawsuit on the basis of a specific construction plan and schedule, along with ongoing judicial oversight of SDA’s performance.”


Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
973-624-1815, x 24

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Press Contact:
Sharon Krengel
Director of Policy, Strategic Partnerships and Communications
973-624-1815, x240