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Newark approved for new schools as part of state project to address overcrowding

Children, wearing winter jackets and carrying backpacks, walk into Camden Street Elementary School.

Children, wearing winter jackets and carrying backpacks, walk into Camden Street Elementary School.

Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat

As part of a larger project to address overcrowding in some of New Jersey’s poorest school districts, state officials approved two new schools in Newark, a district that’s dealt with rundown buildings for decades. 

The Schools Development Authority (SDA) granted two new pre-K through eighth grade schools in Newark, along with 14 other projects across the state, according to a press release issued by the agency last Thursday. The project is part of the SDA’s 2022 Capital Plan, which includes 16 projects that will address overcrowding and infrastructure needs.

“The Board’s approval of these projects, identified in the SDA’s Statewide Strategic Plan as priority projects, will significantly reduce District-wide overcrowding and facility deficiencies that impact thousands of students statewide,” said SDA chairman Robert Nixon. “These projects will deliver thousands of new or replacement student seats in state-of-the-art facilities that will foster learning and student achievement.” 

The average Newark school building was built more than 90 years ago, more than twice the national average, with many suffering from leaky roofs, outdated boilers, and dilapidated restrooms. Rundown buildings can dampen students’ enthusiasm for school and, in some cases, impair their learning. 

The projects slated for Newark will address capacity needs within the district, which serves more than 38,000 students. The new buildings will replace former schools but state and local officials have not released details on which schools they’ve identified for replacement. During this planning phase, the specifics of the projects, such as building size and anticipated costs, are yet to be determined, according to the SDA. Currently, the projects do not have a completion date. 

“It is our job to ensure New Jersey’s young scholars have equitable access to outstanding school buildings that will allow them to learn, thrive, and succeed as they embark on a lifetime of learning,” said SDA CEO Manuel Da Silva. “The Administration’s investment toward the improvement of New Jersey’s educational infrastructure has allowed this Board to advance projects that will address critical needs in districts throughout New Jersey.”

The board’s approval authorizes funding to move forward with planning activities for the project. Planning activity funding cannot exceed $200,000 per project, unless approved by the board. 

Newark Public Schools did not respond to a request for comment.

A woman is seen crossing the street with a little boy wearing a backpack and school uniform.

A mother walks her son across the intersection of Lafayette and Prospect in Newark on their way to school.

Erica Seryhm Lee for Chalkbeat

Newark Public Schools buildings have been crumbling for decades and state officials have been slow to address the needs. According to a historic court ruling, New Jersey must ensure that children in poor communities have access to well-funded schools in up-to-date buildings.

The state allocated nearly $2 billion to support the SDA’s 2022 Strategic Plan to advance more than a dozen school construction projects in SDA districts, and an additional $350 million for facilities projects in regular operating districts. Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy announced $75 million to districts statewide for capital maintenance and infrastructure projects, including roughly $6.5 million for Newark Public Schools.

Of the 16 projects approved by the SDA, three will address “serious facility deficiencies” in the cities of Camden and Salem. These new projects join three more that were approved by the SDA Board of Directors in April for a total of 19 projects approved in 2022.

In March, the state approved Newark Public Schools’ plan to build 10 new school buildings and undertake major repairs at more than 60 existing schools, according to a five-year capital plan. The plan also calls for some 275 renovation projects, including repairs to roofs and plumbing, electrical, ventilation, and fire alarm systems.

Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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