SDA chief answers lawmakers’ questions on schools construction

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), Ewing, pressed Schools Development Authority head Marc Larkins Tuesday afternoon about why Trenton Central  High School was left off SDA’s list of 10 construction projects for 2011.

“Is the worst school you’ve seen one of these 10 projects?’’ Coleman asked Larkins after she said he told a TCHS student during an on-site visit that he had seen worse schools.

Larkins said it is hard to compare, because schools have different problems. “I don’t want to say Trenton Central isn’t bad,’’ Larkins told the Assembly Education Committee, but he said the need is great in many areas of the state. “This isn’t the worst.’’

After Larkins had made a presentation about the review process he had overseen at SDA in coming up with a list of 10 projects, committee members sought more information about prioritization and methodology in deciding which schools get built. Larkins said the total cost for the 10 projects is approximately $584 million.

Assemblyman Joseph Malone, (R-30), Bordentown said in regard to the Phillipsburg project that someone – either the previous administration or district officials – has to be held accountable for why that project – stopped in 2005 – has still not gotten completed. He said that no one went to jail over the mismanagement of the schools construction program in the previous administration and urged Larkins “to finish this fiasco up.’’

He credited Larkins for his review process in bringing some order to the chaos in the schools construction program.

Larkins said previously the reason a new school construction project in Phillipsburg wasn’t included in the 2011 list was because it was too expensive, at $122 million. That’s much more than the $75 million for a construction project in Elizabeth, he explained. Compared to Elizabeth, Larkins said the Phillipsburg plan calls for 10 square feet more per student than the amount of learning space for an Elizabeth student.

Regarding the situation at Trenton Central High School, Larkins said it  has not been resolved.  There remains a group of residents who want renovations of the existing school and not a new school.

Malone said that if the Trenton community can’t make up its mind maybe Coleman and he will introduce a bill “making a decision for Trenton.”

“Most of the kids in the Trenton school system right now will never see a new high school,’’ Malone said.  He said Trenton officials should be given a month to resolve their issues and then the state lawmakers and SDA should move forward.

Malone also stated that a short film shown at the beginning of the committee hearing concerning the problems at Phillipsburg was made by the Assembly Democratic office, and Larkins told Malone that he had no involvement with making the film.

“It breaks your heart to see schools like Phillipsburg where the learning environment is stifled and children’s hopes are perpetually on hold,  Shame on us for how we create separate and equal in the state of New Jersey,” said Elease Evans, (D-35), Paterson, in decrying the schools construction process.

Earlier Larkins testified about the review process he undertook to decide which schools will be built in 2011.

SDA chief answers lawmakers’ questions on schools construction