NEWARK – Senator Ronald L. Rice outlined today several initiatives he is exploring in order to complete the clearing of properties purchased in anticipation of new school construction but now left abandoned after the School Construction Corporation’s (SCC) decision to cancel many of the projects planned for the Abbott districts.
“Yesterday, Assemblyman Craig Stanley and I toured Dewey Street in Newark, one of the neighbors most affected by the SCC decision,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex and Chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools. “What was once a vibrant neighborhood is now a virtual ghost town, as a majority of the homes are now boarded up after being purchased by the SCC in anticipation of building a new high school.”
Senator Rice has already requested that the Joint Committee on the Public Schools estimate the cost of purchasing the remaining homes in the affected neighborhoods so that those homeowners are not forced to live in unsafe areas dominated by abandoned homes. He has also asked for an estimate of the demolition costs after the remaining homes are purchased in order to reduce the safety hazard these abandoned buildings pose for surrounding neighborhoods.
“There are two issues here – building the schools our children need and protecting the quality of life of our residents. It’s pretty clear that there is no immediate answer to the schools question, but I think it is within our means to move far enough on these abandoned projects so that they don’t reduce the quality of life,” explained Senator Rice.
Senator Rice also noted that he is looking into ways to renew the Urban and Rural Centers Unsafe Buildings Demolition Fund. The Fund, started in 1997 after New Jersey voters approved a $20 million bond question, currently has no money.
Added Senator Rice, “In the past, the people of New Jersey have recognized the importance of demolishing unsafe and abandoned buildings. These buildings certainly fall under the same circumstances as those which inspired us to create the Demolition Fund. I am currently exploring ways in which the State can get more money into that fund so that we can remove these abandoned buildings left by the SCC.”
According to Senator Rice, Newark’s Dewey Street is one of several neighborhoods around the State which has been harmed by the SCC’s announcement that it would be unable to fund all of the school construction projects it had previously committed to fund. Many of the homes on Dewey Street have been purchased by the SCC to make way for a new school. It is unclear as to whether the SCC will be able to purchase the rest of the homes on the street as it had promised. Those still living on Dewey Street are worried about the potential safety hazard the boarded up houses on the street pose.
“We have an obligation to do right by the people living in these neighborhoods. I’m committed to finding a solution to the situation and working with my colleagues in both houses to make sure action is taken to address the problem. This is not something we can dally on – the people of New Jersey deserve swift action,” explained Senator Rice.
Senator Rice is also scheduled to be present at a meeting of the School Facilities & Construction Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools to be held at Essex County Community College today. The purpose of the meeting is to hear from residents about relocation issues and the postponing of projects that had already been approved by the New Jersey Schools Construction Corporation.