Stop School Board from Demolishing Demarest and Hoboken High Schools

Citizens of Hoboken:

On 06-10-02, the Board of Education (BoE) passed a resolution allowing the demolition of Demarest Middle School and Hoboken High School (HHS) and the construction of two new schools.

These two schools were originally slated for renovation using NJ state funds. An engineering consultant hired by the NJ Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) who administers these state funds told the BoE that it would be cheaper to demolish and rebuild the schools than to renovate them.

I attended that BoE meeting to protest the destruction of these schools. My reasons: Demarest is a beautiful and historical structure. Both schools are fully functional and in use. It could not be cheaper to destroy and rebuild them. $108 million of taxpayer money will be wasted, causing many months of disturbance and environmental devastation. Noise, exhaust, dust (asbestos?) from heavy machinery, demolition, and construction would pollute the adjacent neighborhoods, including Church Square Park and Columbus Park across the street from the schools.

The BoE had clearly already made up their minds and didn't care what the public thought. Only 5 of the 9 members listened to public comments. (BoE members Alicea and Burns walked out on the public comment period, returning just before the vote.)

Only about 8 members of the public attended the meeting. When I suggested that something as important as destroying of two schools deserved substantial research and at least one heavily advertised major public meeting, BoE President Raslowsky replied that this was not the Board's responsibility, it was mine.

In fact, the Board's decision was based solely upon the NJEDA recommendations with no independent review by the BoE's own experts. The Board's reasoning was simple: the NJEDA was offering "free money" to demolish/rebuild and Hoboken should take it quickly, no questions asked, or some other community would get it. They were in a hurry to give the NJEDA the right to decide what happens to our schools. And what is the NJEDA? According to its own website, it is "a self-supporting, independent state financing and development agency serving New Jersey's business community." NJEDA is a non-elected agency whose business is development, not education.

As part of the Hoboken Stevens Educational Partnership, the City plans to build a new technical school on the Maxwell House waterfront property. Since Hoboken's schools are already underutilized (e.g. HHS has 600 students and it can hold 1500), I predicted (05-12-02 Reporter) that if this school is built, then existing schools would be demolished and public land conveyed to developers.

Now my predictions are unfolding: Demarest and HHS are to be demolished. What will happen to the prime real estate, adjacent to public parks, on which they stand? The Demarest land can be used for any BoE purpose, including an office building or parking garage. The HHS property can be sold to the highest bidder.

So Hoboken will lose two fully functional schools. After months of pollution from demolition and construction, they will be replaced by more development.

Many believe this will never happen. It is happening. What do we do about it?

Dan Tumpson