Hundreds of people stopped by the ribbon-cutting for the newly-opened Hudson County Community College STEM building near Journal Square on Sept. 19 to see the most recent addition to the college, a facility school officials say is one of the most ambitious new additions to their ever-expanding campus.
The event featured a mix of college officials, political figures, and students who joined in the opening of a new chapter in HCCC’s successful rebirth over the last 25 years. This included Rep. Albio Sires, Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise, Hudson County Community College (HCCC) Board of Trustees Chairman William J. Netchert and other members of the board, HCCC President Glen Gabert, members of the New Jersey and Hudson County educational community, and HCCC faculty and students.
The ceremony marked the official grand opening for the 70,070 square-foot facility on the college’s Journal Square campus.
Although Eric Friedman, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, pointed to the fact that the new building expanded the college’s facilities from one biology lab to four, one chemical lab to three, and one physics lab to two plus other facilities, Gabert said the expansion was not about more buildings, but about building better lives.
“Every day this building will have 2,000 students in it, adding a generation of great thinking,” he said. “This is about building better lives.”
Admissions to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and Mathematic) went up this fall by 7 percent in anticipation of the opening of this buildings, Friedman said.
Gabert said admissions for the college overall went up 5 percent this semester.
“This is perhaps the only county college in New Jersey to do this,” Gabert said, giving credit to the team that helped plan, design and construct the building. He also gave credit to Rep. Sires. As speaker of the state Assembly, Sires helped develop the Chapter 12 funding program that paid for construction of the building.
He also gave credit to DeGise and the freeholders for investing in the college over the last 25 years in good and bad economic times. The county helped fund the $300 million in construction costs for expansion of the Journal Square campus as well as the construction of the campus in Union City.
Built without debt
Gabert said the school expansion was accomplished without the college accruing debt.
“This means that student tuitions are not being used to pay it off,” he said. “This is one reason why the college can retain low tuition rates.”
Netchert celebrated the opening. “The construction of a STEM building stem could not be more appropriate in today’s educational and economic climate that gives students better opportunities.”
DeGise joked that when first proposed he didn’t know what STEM was but they have since realized it was a perfect fit for the community.
“I had recently met with Phil Murphy (who is running for governor as Democrat),” DeGise said. “Murphy is proposing that instead of mandatory education from grades 1 to 12, he would like to have educational system go to 14.”
This would mean that every student would have an opportunity to earn an associate degree, and that community colleges would play a vital role in this.
“Someone once asked me what was the best time to build a new school,” DeGise said. “I said it would have been 20 years ago. But the next best time is now.”
DeGise noted that in Hudson County, perhaps the most diverse in the country, the college reflects that diversity and helps build great minds.
Introducing Sires, Gabert said Sires has always been a strong proponent of county colleges.
Sires recalled when he served in the state Assembly, then-Gov. Jim McGreevey proposed a $6 million cut in the state budget for community colleges. Sires said he opposed this, and eventually the money was restored to the state budget.
“Years ago,” Sires said, “there was a stigma associated with those who went to community colleges. This is not the case today. There is no stigma. This is our legacy. There are 11,000 students going to this school now and more are coming. These are students from the most diverse county in the country, and these students bring with them their culture, not just their ethnic foods, but their great minds.”
Freeholder Anthony Romano, who represented the freeholder board at the event, credited great leadership and the character of those who were in charge.
“This,” he said, “includes Congressman Sires, who never forgot where he came from even when he moved on to the federal government.”
Romano said the need for a STEM building is great, noting that more students from HCCC have been using the labs at St. Peter’s University than St. Peter’s own students are.
“This changes now that we have this building,” he said
The six-story building will be the home of the college stem programs. The building has been designed to include computer labs classrooms and student breakout rooms on each of the top five floors. The building also has student lounges, lecture halls, floors dedicated to General Science Electronics, engineering technology, physics, biology, microbiology and chemistry, and includes a coffee shop in an exhibit space.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.