Christie Announces New School Construction Projects

By David Cruz

Gov. Chris Christie was in Hudson County this morning to announce a new round of school construction projects by the Schools Development Authority.

Christie blamed his predecessors for the slow pace of school construction in the state under the old the Schools Construction Corporation but says today’s announcement of 20 school projects was an indication that the new team at the renamed Schools Development Authority (SDA) has turned the agency around.

“The legacy of the school construction program … is one that unfortunately has been filled with wasteful, profligate spending, swollen bureaucracy and too many empty promises about the schools that were to be built – 52 – versus the number of schools that were actually completed – just 2,” said the governor, promising $675 million for the first eight school construction projects on his list, including facilities from Keansburg to West New York.

New SDA CEO Marc Larkins said his first job at the agency was to get the fiscal house in order, cutting $10 million in salaries and other costs over the past two years and reworking the selection process. He said he aims to make less promises and actually build more schools.

“This isn’t a ‘you have to complete the first ten before you move to the next phase.’ This is a rolling program, so some of these are already moving along,” he said. “We can talk all we want and make all these announcements but in the end what we really have to do, is build the schools, and that’s what we’re planning to do.”

In West New York, where today’s announcement was held, the town is negotiating the sale of St. Joseph’s High School to serve as an annex to Memorial High School, which is just across the street. This so-called “alternative delivery method” – where a district buys an existing facility, rather than building a new one – is what made the West New York project attractive to the SDA.

“The addition will allow us to create a campus,” said West New York schools superintendent John Fauta. “It will allow us to put our freshman and sophomore classes in one building, and our juniors and seniors in another building. We are inheriting a swimming pool and a cafeteria and much needed science labs, because we are very shorthanded in science labs here.”

Few will argue that Memorial High School is overcrowded. Originally built for just under 1,000 students, 1,800 students attend the school now. Education officials say that while they’re glad to be on the construction list, no one can actually say when this expansion project will ever begin.