The most current plan calls for the construction of a new high school, an elementary school, and athletic fields on a 6-acre piece of property near the now vacant former Cognis Chemical plant on 12th Street from Adams to Madison streets.
For the past several years, Hoboken has known that it has $100 million or more in state funding coming its way, and plans have been evolving. At one point, it was contemplated that a high school/middle school campus might be the best option, but that plan is no longer financially feasible, according to school officials.
The newest plans, according to Tom Ahern, the senior project officer of the SCC Division of Acquisition and Relocation, will be to build a new high school and elementary school at the Cognis Site.
Adjacent to each of the new schools will be a new athletic complex, with a combination of athletic fields and playgrounds.
Rehabilitation of existing buildings
The six existing school buildings in Hoboken will be rehabilitated, except for the Demarest Middle School on Garden Street, which will be converted to some other public use. School officials say that the old building, which was once the high school Frank Sinatra attended, will not be torn down.
According to Tim Calligy, the district's director of facilities, the Calabro, Connors and Wallace schools will remain elementary schools.
The Brandt School, which is now a middle school, will be converted into an elementary school. All of the city's public middle school children will then move into the existing Hoboken High School building, which will become the city's only middle school.
Calligy said the rehabilitations are in the design phase and should be presented to the Board of Education by January 2005, and major work could begin sometime next year.
Build on chemical plant
But by far the most ambitious portion of the facilities plan is the construction of two new schools. Neither the city, nor the state currently owns the property where the schools are being proposed.
According to Ahern, the SCC nearly completed a feasibility study, which takes into account cost of land acquisition, clean up and construction as it relates to the Cognis chemical plant's property. He said that report is nearly complete and that the SCC is almost certain that Cognis is the most appropriate and affordable piece of property to build the two new schools.
He added that the SCC has already entered into serious negotiations with Cognis to buy their property. In one stroke of good luck, said Ahern, Cognis has agreed in principle to sell the property, zoned industrial, which allows the SCC to buy the land at a fraction of the cost if it the company were to attempt sell the land as residential.
Because they are still in negotiation, Ahern declined to guess what the final sale price might be.
If the sale is deemed feasible, the site must be fully cleaned, and the schools must be designed. Both processes will run concurrently and will take around a year to complete. "We're confident that we can start construction by January or February 2006," said Ahern.
Clean-up a chore
Several community activists have expressed their concerns about building schools and athletic fields on top of a site that has been home to a chemical plant for the better part of a century.
"We are very aware that it was chemical factory," said Ahern, "and we are aware that there are hazardous materials on the site."
A recent survey has shown that on the site there are PCBs, lead, petroleum deposits, and arsenic. While Ahern said that cleaning up the site will be an expensive process, it can be accomplished, he said. He did not say exactly how expensive the remediation would be, but said it wouldn't be cheap. "This will be one of the more expensive remediation actions that the SCC has undertaken," he said.
But he did say that considering sky-high price of real estate in Hoboken and lack of available open land, it's cheaper to buy an industrial piece of property and rehabilitate it than it is to buy a residential piece of property at market rate.
He added that part of the remediation will be completed by Cognis and partly by the SCC. "As part of [of Cognis'] environmental responsibility they will be cleaning the site up to industrial standards," he said. He added that he has been in close contact with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which will oversee every aspect of the clean-up.
According the Ahern, the clean-up will involve the removal of as much hazardous material as possible. After that is completed, wherever the building will be constructed will be capped with pavement and concrete, as well as a protective "vapor barrier system." A vapor barrier is a system that will be used to prevent the potential intrusion of vapors into the proposed school buildings. Where there are athletic fields and playgrounds, there will also be a vapor barrier system plus two to three feet of clean fill.
History of school construction
On July 18, 2000, the New Jersey Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act was signed into law. It will result in the state's investment of billions in public school construction in New Jersey over the next decade, including full funding by the state of all school renovation and construction projects in 28 "special needs" urban school districts, known as the Abbott school districts, of which Hoboken is one.
Under that legislation, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) is entrusted with the responsibility for financing, designing and constructing all of the school facilities projects in the Abbott districts. In July 2002, Gov. James McGreevey created New Jersey Schools SCC, a new subsidiary corporation of the EDA that has been delegated all the responsibilities for instituting the legislation, according to EDA officials. According to SCC officials, each district must prepare a Long Range Facilities Plan that is reviewed and approved by state's Department of Education (DOE) to ensure that they are consistent with state facilities standards and are educationally adequate. After the DOE approves a facilities project, the SCC has managerial oversight.
The state's budget shortfall has recently led to the concern that money for new school construction might dry up before the first brick is laid. According the Ahern, Hoboken needs to act quickly, but he said that Hoboken's projects are in the pipeline and the funding should be secure.
"I believe that that the funding will be there [for these projects,]" said Ahern, "The funds are committed."