The Coalition to Defend Lincoln Annex stood on the steps of New Brunswick City Hall yesterday to hold a press conference about new information on the proposed site for a replacement school.
Lilia Fernández, an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and History, said Mayor James M. Cahill said 131 Jersey Ave., the proposed site and a former industrial zone, has already been cleaned to the standards that medical offices require.
“He has not said a word about how contaminated the site actually is,” Fernández said. “The land on Jersey Avenue is not currently safe for school or residential use or for any use that requires disturbing the soil.”
She said through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, they found that the soil and groundwater of 131 Jersey Ave. contains a large amount of arsenic, lead and copper. The land also has multiple cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by burning coal, petroleum and wood.
“The latest test shows arsenic in the soil is at 130 parts per million,” Fernández said. “That’s more than six times above the safe levels. Lead is as high as 943 parts per million when safe levels for residential use are 400 parts per million and, for nonresidential use, 600 parts per million.”
Fernández also said that through these obtained records, they found that the city of New Brunswick spent approximately 10 years trying to decontaminate the site, but were still unsuccessful in doing so by 2014. The owner of the site was then required by the city to add a notice about the contamination and to monitor the state of the site every year for the next 30 years.
“The notice specifically states that the Jersey law prohibits the conversion of a contaminated site remediated to nonresidential soil remediation standards to a childcare facility or public, private or charter school without the department’s prior written approval,” she said.
Due to this notice, Fernández said Cahill was aware that a school could not be built on this site without being properly cleaned up and without applying to the state for permission. She said the records show the owner of the site found more contaminants each time he drilled into the land between 2010 and 2013, and that this shows remediating the location will take a lot of time and money.
Carlos Castaneda, a resident of New Brunswick, said the New Brunswick Board of Education is making decisions at the expense of the children and parents of the Lincoln Annex School. He said that while they are meant to represent them, they are acting as though they should not exist.
Castaneda also said the superintendent of the school claimed to put together a committee of various people in the community.
“I want to know who is in this committee because our parents right here were never called to be part of this committee,” he said. “Whoever is in this committee does not represent the voices of the parents right here.”
Members of the New Brunswick Police Department remained across the street to monitor attendees through the duration of the press conference.
“I know that there are many political forces and leaders trying to divide the community and the mayor even has, you know, police watching over our press conference today, but we’re gonna continue fighting,” Fernández said. “They’re doing this to intimidate the community, but we’re going to keep fighting nonetheless.”
Immediately following the press conference, the coalition went inside City Hall to attend the New Brunswick Planning Board Meeting.
Daniel Dominguez, Community Development Administrator for New Brunswick, stood before the Planning Board to detail the plan for the new Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
Dominguez said the building will fit into the context of the area, as there is already existing medical development in the neighborhood. He also said that in addition to the Cancer Institute itself, it will also include a parking requirement.
He told the board he was looking for its consent and advice to move forward with the proposal.
“On the development side, I know that there’s been a lot of things that have happened with the Board of Education and other entities,” Dominguez said. “This is somewhat separated from that in the sense that this redevelopment plan can be an overlay zone here: be adopted and this building doesn’t get built, (the) school never gets sold. None of these items are held on whether this plan is adopted. This plan is simply a skeletal foundation for (how) this project should proceed.”
He said they do not predict this plan will increase the strain on existing resources and that $25 million has already been offered to offset the cost of building a replacement school.
When asked if the displacement of the children of the Lincoln Annex School, Dominguez said despite the Board of Education modeling potential sites for a replacement school, their plan for building the Cancer Institute is ready now.
“To the best of my knowledge, there would be a required replacement,” he said.
Dominguez addressed the displacement to the warehouse school — the temporary school the students would have to attend if their school was to be sold — and described it as being nice on the inside. He also said some people may describe it as a warehouse when it is not.
Members of the audience then began yelling in disagreement, saying the temporary location is a warehouse. Dominguez spoke over them, saying looks can be deceiving.
The Planning Board and Dominguez then took questions from the audience regarding the proposal.
Juan González, a professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, pointed out a photo Dominguez provided of the potential area for the Cancer Institute to be built. He said this shows they plan to not only demolish the school, but also multiple other surrounding buildings.
Gonzalez also spoke on his disagreement for the proposed site for a replacement school.
“Our city leaders were either negligent in proposing this site or they thought the parents or community would never discover the truth,” he said.
Fernández then spoke directly to the Planning Board and Dominguez.
“It’s not just about Lincoln Annex School, it’s about the larger ongoing gentrification and redevelopment plans that continue to push working people out of their homes and out of the community,” she said.
She also questioned Dominguez, asking if moving the children to the contaminated site was part of a bigger plan to create more cancer patients in the future.
“Is the city working in collusion with RWJ to cultivate new cancer patients for its centers?” Fernández said. “You’re going to send kids to a contaminated site where they could potentially develop cancer and then, guess what, they’ll be some of the new money-making, revenue-generating patients.”