With the Union City Board of Education already facing an overcrowding problem in the schools, construction on the new K-through-fifth grade school located in the old St. Joseph's school building on the corner of 14th Street and Central Avenue has begun.
The school, which will hold 500 students in 22 classrooms, will help alleviate the overcrowding in Edison, Hudson and Gilmore elementary schools as well as provide classrooms for early childhood education.
"This building will make room throughout the downtown schools," said Superintendent of Schools Thomas Highton, explaining that this will allow schools to provide classrooms for early childhood students. "We will no longer have to have kids in trailers."
Highton added that the city currently holds pre-school classes in 13 trailers; two at Hudson School, seven at Edison School and four at Gilmore School.
According to Board of Education Director of Facilities, Planning and Development William Hogan, the expected completion date for the new K-5 site is December of 2002; however, the board is pushing for an earlier completion date.
Hogan said that Del Ric Construction Company, the North Haledon based company contracted for the renovation, was already three weeks ahead of schedule as of last week.
The $12 million renovation will create 22 classrooms as well as a gymnasium and stage, music room, computer room, cafeteria and kitchen and media center.
The school will also house adult and senior education programs, and community, cultural and recreational activities in its multi-purpose space.
The money for this construction was raised strictly by the Board of Education. The board used funds set aside in their Early Childhood Education fund.
All new buildings
While this new elementary school will alleviate overcrowding in the downtown schools, the Board of Education has submitted a plan for nine new schools throughout the city to work on the problem in the high schools and other city schools.
Emerson High School, one of the city's two high schools, had 450 freshmen entering their hallways for the first time on Sept. 6, a significant increase over last year.
According to Superintendent of Schools Thomas Highton, Union City had about 1,500 students enrolled in the city's two high schools and 10,800 students enrolled throughout the district. Highton expects the number to increase to at least 11,000 before Oct. 1.
According to Highton, the schools' population has increased by three percent each year for the past three years.
The plan for the nine new schools was submitted to the state Board of Education last year, after the state surveyed the district. However, these plans are put on hold until the state Economic Development Authority, which is responsible for the construction of the sites, begins choosing new building sites as well as contractors.
Highton said that the new plan and the state monies were approved by the New Jersey Board of Education; however, the Economic Development Authority who is responsible for going out to bid on construction companies has yet to move on construction plans.
"We can't do anything until the state gives us the green light," said Highton.
The plan, which includes the new middle school slated for the Monastery Site on 20th and West streets, calls for three high schools, three middle schools and three kindergarten-through-fifth grade schools, one of which will be a magnet school.
In the plan, the city's two high schools will be converted into middle schools.
The survey also stated that four of the city's grammar schools did not meet state requirements and are slated to be demolished. These schools are Columbus, Jefferson, Hudson and Columbus schools.
"These schools have no gyms, no cafeterias and no media centers," said Hogan.
Roosevelt, Washington, Robert Waters and Edison schools will be renovated. However, Highton said that none of these schools will be demolished until new schools are built.
The projections in the plan were based on the state's survey and the schools' populations.
"These are the state projections, but I don't think we will ever see three high schools," said Highton. "We just don't have the space in Union City."
Hogan said that the city will probably build up and create more floors in two high schools rather than build three high schools.
The Economic Development Authority will be working with the city to determine the locations of the new school buildings; however, as of now, no cites have been determined.
"We are trying to find ways to construct buildings without taking away tax ratables," said Hogan.
Right now, Highton said, the board is looking into the municipal lot of 35th Street as a possible site.