Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Trenton Schools Projects Stagnate

NJSDA just released its latest report on the state of the schools construction program. The first 10 pages are a nice fluffy read on what new NJ schools should be (green, well designed, serving communities, and with community input etc). The end of the document includes a status update on school facility projects. Based on this document, the NJSDA anticipates that Roebling and TCHS will be ready to start construction in the Summer of 2010, roughly 18 months from now. A conservative construction timeline would indicate that these schools could not be occupied before the Fall of 2012. That is a best case scenario (no funding, design, environmental or construction problems). Obama will be in the midst of his re-election campaign, if that puts it in perspective.

The same document indicates that an additional $18 million in preconstruction costs will be added to both projects, and when added to the previously spent preconstruction monies, total out at over $56 million before construction shovels hit the ground.

There are only 3 out of 50 SDA schools in the state undergoing significant redesign. 2 are in Trenton (Roebling and TCHS). The district (administration and the Board of Education) has charted a new path on both schools, and it now finds itself at the tail end of the projects (just as many Trenton residents warned over a year ago in public meetings at the TBOE). This is the result of a choice the district made. Moreover, the district is now engaged in a process that has significantly increased the cost of the predevelopment activities (redesign and new approvals) and has not engaged in a process whereby resident/parent/student/teacher involvement has been facilitated. The FAB meetings have served as a forum to present the progress of the projects, but it has not been a place where conceptual design input has been gathered or integrated into the projects in a meaningful way. I offer up the following as a suggestion to the district:

1: Develop a strategy with the SDA professionals to streamline the project’s design and development process.

2: Engage residents, students, teachers, and administrators in a process where their needs, wants, and desires are identified throughout the development of these publicly funded projects.

3: Work with the SDA professionals on an approach to ensure that these facilities will be designed and constructed with the latest cost effective green design strategies and technologies.

I have a bias towards preserving the shells of both the existing TCHS and Roebling buildings. Its my professional belief that both sites provide great opportunities for preserving our sense of place, our collective history, and for demonstrating progressive approaches towards the re-use of massive and valuable architectural infrastructure. The prime concern should be for the delivery of up to date facilities for the students who have long endured leaking roofs, environmental concerns, and overcrowded classrooms. And to that end, our district has been failing the future students of Roebling and the current students of TCHS by effectively delaying the construction process by wholly re-thinking the scope and designs of these facilities. It is time to make some hard decisions and move forward with these incredibly important projects.

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About Me

In 1998, I packed up an old Civic with all of my belongings and made a drive from Lubbock, TX to New Jersey. The second day in Jersey, someone at Princeton told me: "hey- you're an architect? Check out Trenton sometime". I found a dilapidated house in Mill Hill and renovated it with my wife for a couple of years. We were blessed with a baby girl four years ago who has helped us to experience the city in wholly new ways! I'm an architect with a specialization in master planning, and am currently a member of the Trenton Planning Board.