On Sept. 1, Weehawken’s Woodrow Wilson School officially returned to the township’s possession, ending a 19-year shared services agreement with Union City to house the latter town’s gifted students in the campus.
Wilson – which is currently closed — will undergo renovations over the next 12 to 18 months, according to Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner. During the work, it will serve as a community center for the town, hosting small recreational events and community play groups. When it’s fully renovated, it will probably be a public school building and still maintain community recreation uses, Turner said.
Hudson Theater Works, a performing arts group in town, is set to be the first community group to perform at the school later in October.
However, “The first thing is, it’s going to remain as a school,” Turner said. “The school system will make a decision as how to utilize it. The superintendent will be making a recommendation to the school board about future use.”
Other schools in the district also open their campuses to the community for certain events.
The renovations will include work to the school’s bathrooms, repairing its exterior lamps, replacing the classroom and hallway doors, and installing security vestibules, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Robert Zywicki.
Eighteen months ago, the township finished canopy work on the school.
“I’ve toured the building a couple of times, and it needs some work,” Zywicki said. That work will also include installing interactive smart boards in the classrooms to bring Wilson up to speed with its sister schools.
“We want it to have the same consistency as our other buildings,” Zywicki said. “It needs to meet the same technology standards.”
Previously, Union City maintained the school, Turner said. “They did everything, they did repair work. But now it needs major work.”
The superintendent is assessing numerous factors to decide how it will be used as a school.
“We’re going to look at our enrollment trends,” Zywicki said. “We’re looking at our needs for early childhood and our needs for special education. Based on that study, I will make recommendations to the board.”
Zywicki said this will take at least six months. According to Turner, the super should make his recommendation by September of 2018 at the latest.
Woodrow Wilson originally opened in 1928, serving kindergarten through eighth grade. However, during a school reorganization around 1997, the town realized it didn’t have enough students to fill the campus. Officials closed down the school soon after.
“The school didn’t really have many children to start with,” Turner said. “Our student population was much lower at the time. So we reorganized, and we made Webster School a [Pre-K] through second grade school, Roosevelt School third through sixth grade, and moved the seventh and eighth grades into the high school. So we didn’t need Wilson School.”
But Weehawken is luring families back to town, and the population of public school students is growing. “Families are buying homes because it’s a great town, it’s a clean town, and we have a great school system,” Turner said.
Union City’s needs
However, Union City, which was renovating its Gilmore School on Kerrigan Avenue, needed more space for its students. “Union City is an Abbott District,” Turner said. “They were renovating a lot of their schools, and building new schools. They needed a place to put their gifted and talented kids.”
After Wilson’s initial closure, “we were exploring what to do with it,” Turner said. “Some people wanted to sell it, some people wanted to make condos, some people wanted to keep it as a school. While we were having that debate, Union City came forward and said, ‘Gee, we would like to rent it.’”
Though the lease agreement was originally for five years, Union City kept on renewing through the years, paying Weehawken $1 million annually in rent.
Of the Wilson building, Turner said, “It’s a beautiful building. We’re not going to open it up for big events, because the parking is so tight in the neighborhood. No concerts or anything like that.”
He added that the Weehawken Free Public Library, which is located near the school, could host some events in the school’s auditorium.
The Hudson Theater Works will be performing Shakespeare’s MacBeth at the school from Oct. 12 through the 28. Visit http://www.hudsontheatreworks.com/ for more information.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org