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Newark Superintendent Roger Leon has been on a quest to expand the school district’s footprint in order to counteract the popularity of the city’s public charter sector, which educates 35% of Newark students. (This is in spite of new studies that show “charters located in urban areas boost student test scores, particularly for Black, Latinx, and low-income students” and “charter entry generates more revenue per pupil for district schools.”) As part of Leon’s real estate ambitions, he is reclaiming the old St. James Hospital in the East Ward to turn it into the “High School of Architecture and Interior Design.” Today news broke that the project’s opening day will be pushed forward at least another year.
Leon told the Star-Ledger, “you could say September ‘24,” regarding a potential opening.“We’re having a meeting about it on Tuesday when I should have a better idea.”
Due to the delay, last week the Newark Board of Education approved an extension to the contract with Remington & Vernick Engineers Inc. of Cherry Hill for “construction management services” (although Leon told the Board Remington & Vernick weren’t the project managers). The Board also approved an additional payment for $446,754, bringing the total owed to the non-project managers to $1.18 million.
The construction will be carried out carried out by Summit Assets, a New York City-based developer. The project will cost Newark and state taxpayers $160 million. TapintoNewark reported last year that once the high school is built, Summit will continue to own it and the district will rent the building from the developer for the next twenty years. The first year the district will pay $519,243 per month in base rent, for a total rent of for $6.2 million a year. By the twentieth year, the district will pay nearly $8.3 million, or $689,010 per month, an increase of 32% over 20 years. The district is also responsible for the property taxes which, if rates stay the same for the next two decades, will cost taxpayers another $6.3 million.
From Tapinto: “By the final year, the district will pay nearly $8.3 million, or $689,010 per month, an increase of 32% over 20 years.” After 20 years the district will buy the building from Summit for “fair market value,” without any credit for 20 years of rent. “The purchase option means NPS could end up paying twice the full cost of the building if it decides to purchase at the end of the lease.”
This high school project has been riddled with problems. The state labor department issued three stop-work orders when fair labor advocates proved Summit was using non-unionized construction workers (illegal for a public project of this magnitude) and forcing them to endure terrible conditions and low pay. In addition, Summit was found to be harassing the landlord of a century-old tenant near the site, Olshin’s Pharmacy, because he wouldn’t sell his lot to Summit.