In early 2002, Superintendent of Schools Frank J. Gargiulo asked the state Department of Education for preliminary approval to design a new campus on vacant county-owned land in Secaucus next to a county park.
But some freeholders, when presented with the plans at the Sept. 12 freeholder caucus meeting, balked, saying the site is too remote for students traveling from places such as West New York and Bayonne.
Instead, freeholders Bill O'Dea and Maurice Fitzgibbons suggested that the current site on Montgomery Street in Jersey City be expanded.
In arguing his case for establishing a new campus in Secaucus, Gargiulo estimated that maintenance and upgrades to the two existing campuses would cost the county almost $53 million over the next five years.
Why not stay where it is?
The North Bergen campus is located on Tonnelle Avenue, a traditional industrial area that is currently seeing a conversion to big box retail stores.
Officials at the school said the North Bergen site has severe restrictions such an inefficient building layout, frequent flooding, and significant truck traffic outside.
The Jersey City campus on Montgomery Avenue needs upgrades, but also has significant security issues that limit instruction to daylight hours.
Changes in national school policy, technology
The need for a new school is prompted by several changes in education policy on a state and national level, school officials said.
Schools need to be more secure than in the past. Instruction often requires increasing levels of technology that older existing buildings cannot accommodate. Schools also have programs in performing arts, science, engineering, and technology that require different configurations to rooms than those found in traditional schools of the past.
"In Hudson County, our schools are simply outgrowing the space needed for a comprehensive program, and the sites are too small for expansion," Gargiulo told the freeholders. "Given the demand from Hudson County residents, a new school at a new location is the only option."
As a result of the cost and other limitations posed by the existing campuses, the Hudson County Schools of Technology trustees ordered a review of five potential sites in Hudson County for locating a new school. These include the Academy Bus site in northwestern Hoboken, a site at the former Military Ocean Terminal in Bayonne, a Jersey City site on Garfield Avenue, a site near Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus, and another site near Paterson Plank road and Westside Avenue in Secaucus. They also looked at the existing school site on Montgomery Street.
Laurel Hill is least expensive
The Academy bus site has size limitations, with about 12 acres, and could cost about $100 million to acquire. The MOTBY site has plenty of room and low security concerns, it is not yet available for purchase. The Garfield Avenue site has no buildable property for the school.
The only site that has enough room and would cost nothing to purchase is the Secaucus site at Laurel Hill, the report concluded.
But O'Dea and Fitzgibbons said the Montgomery Avenue site could be expanded with the purchase of small neighboring parcels, and would provide easier access to students from around Hudson County than the Secaucus site would.
"Why not build up rather than out?" O'Dea asked. "This is an urban area and we could go up on that site."
The Montgomery Street site is the current home of Count Prep High School and the Explore 2000 Middle School, and even the report showed that it is easily accessible by bus and car.
"Some of the existing facility could be renovated, and the rest of the program could be housed in a multi-level structure that would include two levels of garage parking to accommodate the additional cars coming in," the report said, but also added, "This site is the smallest of the five sites being considered, and would virtually eliminate the inclusion of additional sports facilities."
JC or Hoboken
Fitzgibbons, who has pushed in the past for a site in Hoboken, said a school located in Jersey City could make use of numerous sporting facilities already exiting.
O'Dea noted that Montgomery Street campus is also within a few blocks of a new county government building, where there is additional parking.
"This could be used for some of the school's needs," he said.
In addition, the Jersey City site is within easy distance of other facilities that might be used in conjunction with educational programs, such as Liberty Science Center, Jersey City library branches, and the Jersey City Museum.
"While I had my heart set on having an arts school in Hoboken, I can see a schools of technology campus in Jersey City having an extensive arts program and access to some of the community programs," Fitzgibbons said.