TRENTON – The head of the Schools Development Authority estimates that there will be approximately 10 to 15 active school construction projects under way next year, according to testimony at today’s Assembly Budget hearing.
Currently, there are six active construction projects in the state, according to Marc Larkins, the SDA chief executive officer.
The current construction projects include a new school in West New York, demolition of a school in Keansburg to make room for a replacement school, and construction on Columbus School in Union City – which Larkins hopes will be completed by the summer.
Recently completed projects include an early childhood center in Pemberton and projects in Egg Harbor City and Egg Harbor Township.
“I came to the Legislature because of school construction issues,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, (D-29), Newark, who asked how many projects would be under way next year. “We really need to start moving forward with this.”
Democratic lawmakers have consistently criticized the administration over what they consider the slow pace of schools construction. However, the Christie administration has said that unlike previous administrations they are now making decisions based on cost-effectiveness rather than politics.
In response to the estimate of 10 to 15 future active construction sites next year, Coutinho said, “that’s a lot better than where we are now.”
“We missed an opportunity to stimulate the economy,” Coutinho said, speaking about slow moving construction projects of the past.
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, (D-15), Trenton, was irate when told that a Trenton high school would be renovated rather than have a new building.
“Who made that decision?” she asked Larsen, who told the Assemblywoman that the community weighed in on the process.
“The community that had the loudest voice doesn’t even have children there,” Watson Coleman said. “People think the building is more important than the purpose…those children need a safe school.”
Last year, the state announced eight future construction projects, and Larkins said the state has advertised construction activity on three of the projects, and anticipates advertising contracts for another four of those projects before the midpoint of this year.
Individual legislators used the hearing to question Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Larkins about local school issues in their respective districts.
Other issues addressed at the hearing included funding of public education.
In the morning session of the hearing, Cerf called the governor’s proposed budget the most generous budget for education in the state’s history. However, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, (D-3), West Deptford, sent out a press release during the hearing blasting the governor’s proposed education budget.
“None of the indirect aid touted by the governor goes into the classroom to benefit children,” Burzichelli said. “It does not hire one teacher, provide one textbook nor buy one computer.”