The New Brunswick Board of Education held a remote meeting last night and passed a resolution to approve the submission of a Long-Range Facilities Plan to include the replacement of the Lincoln Annex School.
Members of the community called in to raise questions and concerns about the school during the public comment section of the meeting, which was held before the resolutions were voted on. Board of Education Business Administrator Richard Jannarone led this section of the meeting and explained the current status of the school.
He said Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) submitted a proposal on Feb. 10 which stated it would pay for the construction of a replacement school. The Daily Targum previously reported RWJUH wants to purchase the land occupied by the Lincoln Annex School to build an extension of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.
Jannarone said the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) is now assessing potential sites for the replacement school.
“What we've now done is we have begun a site analysis. There's two sites that were identified now. One is 131 Jersey Ave., one is 50 Jersey Ave.,” Jannarone said. “DEVCO is doing the site analysis. That site analysis will include all the environmental studies, everything about environmentally with the two sites. It will include what size school you can place on it, traffic (and) parking.”
He said the site analysis will be available to the public when it is complete and the Board of Education will use it to determine which site is more suitable for a replacement school.
The Targum previously reported an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed through the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection shows 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 records also show New Brunswick officials spent approximately 10 years trying to decontaminate the site, an effort largely unsuccessful. 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 Targum reported.
Julienne LaChance, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton University, spoke to the Board about the contamination issues at 131 Jersey Ave.
“With the contaminants that are present at the 131 Jersey Ave. site, based on these soil remedial action reports and other engineering reports that I've looked into, these contaminants present what we call a ‘vapor intrusion risk,’” LaChance said.
She said this means the contaminants in the soil can turn into vapors that would seep into the school through cracks in the foundation, utility inlets or other gaps, making it difficult for the site to ever be fully decontaminated.
“What that means is that even if you remediate the site and put a cap on it, which is what I do believe DEVCO will try to do, this vapor intrusion risk will be present for as long as the school is operational,” LaChance said. “When you build a school on such a site, it's associated with continuous maintenance fees for the engineering controls, as well as extremely frequent investigations.”
Charlie Kratovil, editor of New Brunswick Today, asked the Board to hold off on voting on the resolution due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak that is preventing the Board from holding regular in-person meetings, which he said prevents people from participating. He also said there are still unanswered questions and unfulfilled OPRA requests, which he asked the Board to fulfill.
“I think history would look kindly upon putting the brakes on this proposal until we as a community can get through this crisis,” Kratovil said.
The Board declined to postpone the vote and Jannarone said having to handle the COVID-19 crisis is preventing them from fulfilling Kratovil’s OPRA requests in a timely manner.
Juan González, professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, also asked Jannarone about his OPRA request which was filed on March 10 and has not been fulfilled.
“I wanted to know the names of the public members of the Long-Range Facilities Plan Committee that the school district appointed after last month's meeting to help it choose a replacement site for Lincoln Annex,” González said. “I was especially interested in the parent and community members on that committee and I asked for copies of any emails from the superintendent that officially appointed those members.“
He said Jannarone told him his request could not be fulfilled until March 25. González said he then emailed Superintendent Aubrey Johnson and Board of Education President Diana Solis on March 17, who did not respond to his request.
Since his OPRA requests remain unfulfilled, González asked the Board members for the names of the Long-Range Facilities Plan Committee members, what criteria was used to select the parents and community members on the committee, how many meetings were held, where to find their meeting minutes and how this committee developed the Long-Range Facilities Plan that Board was voting on.
Jannarone said the reason González's OPRA request was taking so long is that it takes a while to find all relevant emails and said COVID-19 is preventing him from going into the office. González said searching for emails is a simple process that takes approximately 10 minutes, which Jannarone denied.
He said the parents on the committee were chosen by the principal and the Parent-Teacher Association. The Board said the committee had two meetings that did not have official minutes. Jannarone said González’s questions will be fully answered when he has the chance to go to the office and finish his OPRA request.
David Hughes, treasurer of the Rutgers American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, spoke on behalf of all Rutgers unions and questioned whether the University is fully committed to the project to build the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at the site of the Lincoln Annex School. He said the Rutgers Board of Governors claims this project is being promoted by the Board of Education and DEVCO.
“I would suggest that you look very carefully at the Board of Governors and ask them for a written and public commitment to this project because if you don't have that commitment from Rutgers, you could be in a situation now where you've demolished a functioning, award-winning school … and you don't have a cancer center to replace it with, and you don't have the money,” Hughes said. “This whole deal can fall apart because the Rutgers Board of Governors is becoming as embarrassed and ashamed of this whole deal as the Rutgers faculty are.”
Jannarone declined to say whether Rutgers has given a written commitment to the project, and Hughes said the Rutgers unions will continue to pressure the University to oppose the sale of the Lincoln Annex School.
“What you're doing to Lincoln Annex is affecting the pipeline of students who I will teach and my colleagues will teach one day, and I'm alarmed that it seems to be you’re going to interrupt that pipeline,” Hughes said.