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North Bergen gets $10 million toward purchasing former High Tech High School

State pitches in

The former High Tech High School on Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen, via Google Maps

North Bergen will receive millions from the state toward opening a new high school campus at the site of the former High Tech High School on Tonnelle Ave., according to Mayor Nicholas Sacco.

On July 29, Sacco and Gov. Phil Murphy announced there was $10 million in the state budget to supplement funds to build the new school.

“I can’t tell you how honored I am that we have in the budget to help build that new high school and to take this community to a place that is has never been before,” Murphy said.

In a statement the day after the announcement, Sacco reiterated the importance of the state funds: “This funding will help move this important project forward.”

School realignment

The project is part of the school district’s $65 million realignment, initiated in 2018.

It aims to alleviate the overcrowded district by moving seventh, eighth, and ninth grade classes into the new campus. Tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders will be at North Bergen High School. This is designed to make room in the elementary schools for Pre-K students to move out of classrooms housed in permanent trailers in Braddock Park, near Bruin Stadium.

It will cost approximately $37 million to purchase and renovate the former High Tech High School, approximately $15 million to renovate the current North Bergen High School, and approximately $12 million for other upgrades.

On Dec. 11, 2018, North Bergen’s Board of Education held a special election in which voters approved the plan to use $60 million in long-term bonds to finance the project. The township will have to repay only $34 million. The NJ Department of Education will pay the rest.

The remainder  will be financed by the state. This additional $10 million will go toward purchasing the former High Tech High School, officials said.

Legal wrangling

The project faced problems even before COVID-19.

“It was delayed by a frivolous lawsuit filed by our political opposition and by the pandemic, which affected much of the planning and construction process,” Sacco said.

Days before the Dec. 11 vote in 2018, Sacco’s electoral rival at the time, Larry Wainstein, filed a lawsuit alleging that the township violated the Open Public Meetings Act, also known as Sunshine Law, when distributing public notice of the vote.

That suit was thrown out of Hudson County Superior Court just days before the vote took place. Shortly after Wainstein’s charges were dismissed, Diana Ortiz filed a lawsuit to have Wainstein’s case heard in appeals court, challenging the judge’s verdict favoring the North Bergen Board of Education. Ortiz ran unsuccessfully for a commissioner slot in the May municipal elections that year on a slate with Wainstein.

Ortiz’s complaint was dismissed in Hudson County Superior Court. The New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling in July of 2019.

Finally progressing?

While bonding was held up while the matter was in court, things began to move forward in February of 2020, when officials estimated the project would be complete by September of 2022.

A few months later COVID-19 hit, delaying things once more.

“Now we will be able to build this facility while limiting the impact on North Bergen taxpayers and giving our students the school they deserve,” Sacco said.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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