The Hoboken Board of Education hosted their first public meeting on a proposed $241 million high school that they will allow voters to decide next month whether or not to create. But so far, the public isn’t on board with it.
Members of the public came to the Dec. 14 board meeting at the Middle School and many of them grilled the board over the ambitious project’s lack of transparency, the impact on taxpayers, and whether or not it’s really meant to be a high school.
The new high school was initially announced by the board last month, saying that it’s meant to meet the needs of a growing population. The new school would be built on the existing JFK Stadium to fit about 1,200 students, and would come with new arts and athletic facilities for both students and the public to use.
The board plans to pay for the project via a 30-year bond, with property owners paying about $93 per $100,000 of their property annually. The board will let the public decide on whether or not to approve the bonds in a Jan. 25, 2022 vote.
“Why didn’t you let anybody know?”
The board showcased the proposed high school at the meeting, with representatives in charge of the project giving a similar pitch to the one they showed at a Hoboken Planning Board meeting earlier this month.
When public comments on the project began however, many members of the public spoke, at times passionately, over their opposition to the plan.
Cheryl Fallick, a former Hoboken City Council candidate who ran this year, criticized the board for a lack of transparency and the lack of public input on the project. “Why didn’t you let anybody know? Why was this withheld from the public?” she asked.
She then grilled the board over the bond’s cost to taxpayers, and questioned why the district didn’t look to state funding for the project. “I totally feel blindsided by the lack of transparency,” she said. “It feels corrupt. It also feels like it hurts everybody else in the community.”
Dan Tumpson, another member of the public, called the project a bad idea, arguing that the project would create environmental damage to the surrounding area and said the number of current students at the current high school are less than the capacity of the project.
“This huge and unneeded new school creates more benefits for developers and the politicians they support to the detriment of the environmental and financial health of Hoboken and its citizens,” he said.
One member of the public, Mary Ondrejka, gave an explosive speech to the board, blasting them for being deceptive and said the project was not mentioned during the Board of Education elections this year. “’I’ve lost all credibility with every single one of you,” she said to the board.
She also blasted the project for looking like “a sports complex in sheep’s clothing” and questioned why they didn’t put resources into math, literature and language.
Ondrejka even threw shade at the architects of the project, Frank Tedesco and Erik Wood of Mount Vernon Group, for their presentation being “one of the most inadequate and quick presentations I’ve ever sat through,” she said with the audience applauding her.
“I can insult you because I and the public deserve better,” she said.
Only a few people spoke in favor of the project, but support for it was drowned out by the mass opposition to it.
When asked about the public’s criticism of the project, Tedesco said, “I think that’s true of any project. People have feelings and they have the right to vote yes or no.”
Board of Education President Sharyn Angley did not respond for comment on criticism toward the project.
What’s next for the project
While most of the public that night had opposed the new high school, the project has the support of Mayor Ravi Bhalla and his allies on the City Council, which include Councilmembers Emily Jabbour, Jim Doyle and Phil Cohen.
The Board of Education will host additional public meetings about the project on Dec. 21, Jan. 6 and 17, 2022 at 7 p.m. at the High School Auditorium, and a virtual meeting on Jan. 13, 2022 at 7 p.m.
The vote on whether or not to approve the bonds for the project will take place on Jan. 25, 2022, with polls open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at all regular polling places. Registration for the vote is open until Jan. 4, 2022.
If the vote goes through successfully, construction on the project would begin in the later half of 2022, with the officials expecting it to be completed before the 2025-2026 school year.