But these two middle schools only scratch the surface of school construction, with Union City's plans being especially ambitious.
Over the past few weeks, Union City has seen visits from both Gov. James McGreevey and New Jersey State Education Commissioner William Librera. Each official announced different projects planned in Union City that together will culminate in the one of the most ambitious school construction projects that one single town in New Jersey has ever seen.
School construction master plan
In documents obtained from the Union City Board of Education, the master plan for the Union City School District has been revealed. Compiled by New Jersey School Construction Corporation Project Officer Sameer Shah, the master plan covers a six-year time period that will see the construction of a multitude of schools, covering just about every part of Union City. According to the documents, 2004 will see the completion of the Monestary Middle School, which will hold 755 seats. 2005 will see an Early Childhood Center at the site of the old Schlemm Funeral Home on Kennedy Boulevard. This will accommodate 243 seats. 2006 has been proposed as the year that will see the construction of three new elementary schools and a second middle school located between 35th and 37th Streets. This project will, according to the master plan documents, house 1,225 seats. 2007 will see the completion of a magnet school for the arts located at Fifth Street between Summit Avenue and Paterson Plank Road, on the southern end of town bordering Jersey City Heights. This school will hold approximately 950 kids. 2008 and 2009 will see the construction of two new high schools, which will eventually replace Emerson and Union Hill High Schools. Each of those projects is projected to hold 1,459 seats.
The construction of all these new facilities will cause a massive shift in school population. As it stands, most of Union City's schools are bursting at the seams, overwhelmed and overcrowded as each year sees more of an influx of immigrants and new residents. And for a town that has a dearth of space to begin with, the burgeoning school population demands bold visions and bold moves.
Union City, in the past months, has seen the completion of two new schools. One, located at 41st Street and Palisade Avenue, was christened the Union City Uptown Career Academy and is meant as a supplement for high school students who may have a career track in mind as opposed to an academic track. The school offers career training in a variety of industries including fashion design, computer programming and repair among others.
The second school completed recently was the Veteran's Memorial Elementary School, located at 1401 Central Ave., the site of the former St. Joseph's School. The facility houses 550 students and is a pre-K through fifth grade school. The ribbon-cutting ceremony held two weeks ago brought out many Union City Board of Education officials as well as hundreds of children who are currently attending the school.
According to Union City Board of Education officials, the school was designed to alleviate overcrowding at the Edison, Hudson and Gilmore schools and will offer regular and bilingual education. The school features a computer room, a music room, a kitchen, a state-of the-art media center, a gymnasium with a stage and a cafeteria serving breakfast and lunch.
Being that the Veteran's Memorial School is located in a very residential area, Union City Mayor Brian Stack was careful to thank the residents of the neighborhood for their patience during the construction of the school (which took two years). During his speech two weeks ago, Stack also thanked the residents for so readily accepting the school into the fabric of their neighborhood.
It goes without saying that in a city as densely populated as Union City, space is hard to come by. So when any kind of major construction project is announced, residents immediately begin asking the question, "OK - so where's it gonna go?"
This has forced the Union City Board of Education, the Stack administration and the State of New Jersey to get creative when it comes to where to place all the new schools that are outlined in the recently-released master plan. Perhaps no project is more "creative" and ambitious than what has become known as the "Union City Demonstration Project."
Announced last week at a Roosevelt Stadium press conference by Gov. McGreevey, the project calls for a brand new high school to be constructed on the site of the Roosevelt Stadium. Not only will a new school be built on the site, but an ambitious community redevelopment plan is in the works that will see the transformation of an eight-block area into what will include affordable housing, a multi-level parking deck and retail spaces.
According to documents given out at the press conference, the new high school is slated to be situated adjacent to and east of the current Roosevelt Stadium, which is to be demolished. A one-story structure will be constructed and a new stadium, interestingly, will be constructed on the roof that building. This, according to the documents, will accommodate a regulation-sized football field.
The project is also slated to include a 5,000-square-foot health center/day care center for infants and toddlers that would be run by the North Hudson Community Action Corporation.
School for the arts
Another project recently announced is the construction of a magnet school for the arts located on Fifth Street between Summit Avenue and Paterson Plank Road. Dubbed the "Renaissance Project" officially, the proposed project runs from the Jersey City border at Washington Park along Kennedy Boulevard to 10th Street and east along 10th Street to Palisade Avenue and south along the Palisades. This project, according to documents compiled by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, will "anchor the area's rebirth, bringing education, business and community involvement together for the betterment of our city."
Also included in this project is the development of the Yardley Property.
Displacement to come?
None of this broad development would be possible without the displacement of a certain number of residents that currently reside in the neighborhoods proposed for development. And although Union City Mayor Brian Stack has gone so far as to promise that he will not "be knocking anyone's home down," it does appear that people will be relocated.
According to documents handed out by the state, "The Union City Redevelopment Agency (URCA) will acquire properties in the redevelopment area by voluntary purchase or condemnation. The city and school district recognize that this will be a lengthy process, but do not intend for the eminent domain proceedings to delay the high school project."
The document continues, "As the site for the high school is city-owned and DEP approval for diversion from Green Acres designation is expected shortly, site evaluation and demolition for the high school are planned to commence immediately upon primary approval."
Stack has come under a certain amount of criticism for his ambitious school construction initiatives. At a recent commissioners meeting, a number of residents of the Roosevelt Stadium neighborhood attended the meeting to question the mayor as to what his plans were. The residents were no doubt spurred on by an anonymous flier that was sent out depicting Stack as the driver of a bulldozer ready to knock down residents' houses.
At that meeting, Stack declared, "We're years away from even the stadium project. You have our word that we will not be taking your homes. That is a promise."
The issue brings up an interesting question - what is worth more, the keeping of already existing homes or the development of new schools? Obviously, the residents of the Roosevelt Stadium neighborhood are on the side of keeping their homes, some of which have been owned for generations. Others, however, side with the school development proposal, seeing it as a wise investment in the future.
Last week, the Reporter questioned some store owners at the proposed magnet school development area and found that of those sampled, none had any idea that their stores may, within a year's time, be no more.
Ruben Ong, a manager of the Auto Zone auto parts store in the shopping center on Fifth Street, looked puzzled when questioned about the proposed development. "No, I haven't heard of this," said Ong.
A worker at Metro Liquors a few doors down had much the same reaction. This could mean simply that these storeowners haven't been alerted yet to the possible destruction of their stores. And while Stack has pledged to assist those that are potentially affected by the school construction projects, one can only imagine that in Union City, the process will not be an easy one. - Dylan Archilla