The needler in the haystack.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

SCC decision bitter pill for Plainfield

Can you do bitter?

I can, and you may well feel bitter by the time you reach the end of this post.

The papers today are full of news the Schools Construction Corporation has drawn up the final list to allocate its last cash for projects. (Here are links to the Ledger, Courier, New York Times, and AP coverage.)

Just ONE Plainfield school is on the list -- Emerson Elementary School. (I have scanned the list from the Ledger and posted it here.)

I had a chance to chat with this project's architect, George Jones of Johnson Jones Architects, at Mayor Al McWilliams' funeral. We commiserated over the difficulties of the SCC situation, but were both relieved that it seemed the Emerson project would be completed. So the news that it made the final cut is welcome if anticlimactic.

Sadly, no other Plainfield project is even on the list. The Courier reports today that Assemblyman Green and Mayor Robinson-Briggs met with SCC officials yesterday to plump for keeping a new high school and a new middle school in the running if the state funds a new round of construction.

Where is our political muscle, our mojo?

When the SCC was first established, Plainfield went through an intense period of public reflection on the community's needs, guided by an expensive and politically well-connected consultant.

The determination was that, in addition to the projects which are now already completed or nearing completion (Cedarbrook and Stillman expansions, Clinton Avenue major makeover, and a new Emerson school), the community needed a NEW middle school, a major makeover of the high school, and a teardown and replacement of the Evergreen and Jefferson schools.

Priority for the
NEW middle school, slated for the site at South Second Street and Grant Avenue, was switched in July, 2003 to a proposal by Assemblyman Green for a $150M project including a new middle school on the grounds of Muhlenberg Hospital (see archived story), only to be turned by the Assemblyman in December of that year into a $60M proposal for a new grade school on the same site that was advanced by the Assemblyman in July (see archived story).

Alas, none of this ever came to pass. And my guess is that we'll be lucky to see even one of the middle and high school projects Green and Robinson-Briggs are now talking about.

The bitterness?

Left out of the discussion completely is the fate of the 'swing school' on West Front Street.

Currently it houses the displaced students from the Jefferson and Emerson schools. Emerson will be finished and those students will be in their new building soon.

Jefferson? Fuhgeddaboudit!

The building has been turned into offices for the school district and no one hears anything of a new Jefferson school building.

Does that mean they'll be in the temporary 'swing school' building permanently? You tell me.

Here's what makes me bitter: Back when the SCC was looking for a site for the swing school needed to rotate student populations on a temporary basis while new or renovated space was being constructed, there were a couple of options on the table.

One was the National Starch office building on West Front Street -- prime, 'class A' offices with easy access to trains and routes 287, 22 and 78. And paying tens of thousands of dollars yearly in property taxes.

The other was the former Wardlaw-Hartridge campus on Plainfield Avenue, which had been recently taken over by a religious school that was in financial difficulties. This was a spacious, handsomely landscaped nine-acre lot with the distinct advantage that it was completely equipped as a school and was ALREADY OFF THE TAX ROLLS. It could be used as a 'swing' school as long as needed and then turned into the new middle school -- or returned to the tax rolls with residential development.

For whatever reason, the SCC bullied the city into acceding to the 'temporary' loss of the taxpaying West Front Street property as the 'better' option. With a solemn promise it would be returned to the tax rolls in a 'few short years'.

And thus a successful -- and prestigious -- business, employing Plainfield residents, was forced out of the community.

So now, dear taxpayer, you are looking not only at a failure of the state to deliver on promised school construction and its positively harming the business and employment climate of the city, it seems you may very well be looking at the total loss of tax ratables from the West Front Street property as the state welches on its promise.

In short, we wuz robbed.

Are you bitter yet?

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

I fail to understand how the tearing down and recontruction of certain schools, in anyway assists in the education of Plainfield's children. If additional school buildings are needed, that is one thing - but even the remote possibililty of destroying Evergreen School really ticked me off. Does everything "old" and beautiful have to be removed from our city??? Thank God for the historic districts that we do already have, designated, so that not all is lost.

One more thing - Thank you Dan for keeping us informed - please do not lose heart and leave us in the dark!

Anonymous said...

The city used to make $200,000 a year in real estate taxes from the National Starch site before it became the swing school. Plainfield also lost the federal Social Security office and a private testing laboratory that had been there for years and did not want to leave the community for fear that they would lose workers and patrons.

We tried to assist both offices find new spaces in the City -- both unsuccessful. The state would not pay what the Lab projected the costs would be to properly retrofit a new space (in Plainfield) for their testing facility. Instead, at last discussion, the state was strongly suggesting that they move into a former lab building in East Brunswick as their only reasonable choice. Thie owner felt forced into this decision based upon economics.

When the Social Security office lost their space it triggered a federal policy which requires a demographic analysis of the agencies target population to see what the best relocation site (community) would be to serve them. This may or may not be the current town. To my knowledge they were not able to stay in Plainfield.

Another issue is the 6 plus acres of city-owned land located at Grant and South Second Street that was to be the new middle school site selected by the community outreach program. This former industrial site was investigated and cleaned up with state grant money we obtained. What does the city do now -- wait years for more school construction money or let it go for new development? While it would have made a great school site it has been vacant for years and is set for development as it has been cleaned to residential standards. One way or another new construction on that site would pump allot of vitality into the west end.

Pat Ballard Fox

Anonymous said...

One could not attend a meeting in Plainfield relative to "new school construction" without Jerry Green bragging about what he was doing, would be doing to see that Plainfied got what was needed in terms of our fair share of SCC money for school contruction. Maybe Jerry Green is a "legend" only in his own mind and in the minds of "ignoramuses" in Plainfield.