North Bergen breaks ground on Junior High School West Campus

The township bonded for the project after a referendum in 2018, but was held up for a few reasons

North Bergen has broken ground on its new Junior High School West Campus on the former campus of High Tech High School in the township.

Mayor Nicholas Sacco was joined by leaders of the Board of Education and other officials to ceremoniously put shovels in the ground to kick off construction on the project located at the former high school on Tonnelle Avenue.

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Officials said the school will be fully renovated as part of the district’s reorganization plan to help relieve overcrowding in the school district. The new school is planned to open for the 2023 to 2024 school year and will house grades 7 through 9.

It will also host Culinary Arts and Expanded Career Technical Education for programs for grades 9 through 12, thus marking the return of vocational programs in the district. Programs will include carpentry, plumbing, automotive tech, and other disciplines aim to prepare students for in-demand careers.

The renovations to the school will include the addition of an auditorium, turf field, and student walkway. The overall school realignment plan, of which the new junior high school was a part of, also provides for renovations to air conditioning, lighting, and accessibility on the North Bergen High School campus.

With renovation of the school beginning, the Board of Education’s goal is to provide a student and parent tour in the Spring of 2023. The building will be open for grades 7 through 9 in September of the 2023 school year.

While North Bergen voters approved a $60 million school bond referendum in 2018 to support the project, it was significantly delayed due to lawsuits that were eventually dismissed, work delays due to public health guidelines and funding uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, and flooding caused to the interior of the site during Hurricane Ida.

A rendering of the planned renovations to the school as it will look when completed.

Solter talks new school

At the press conference, Solter said this was a long time in the making.

“A while ago, when we thought about this happening, High Tech was leaving,” Solter said. “They asked us about taking over the school, and that got the wheels in motion. That was a while ago. When you think about the work we had to do to get the referendum. The referendum happened. Then we had a lawsuit on the referendum. Then we had COVID hit and there’s a lot of delays that happened. But we’re working through it all. That’s the important thing”

According to Solter, the new junior high school is an important part of relieving the overcrowded school district.

“That will be something that we’re really looking forward to, decreasing class size, getting teachers into classrooms,” Solter said. “So I think this is just a win for North Bergen… We’ve been doing things lately with our schools, with each and every aspect of the community… and it’s not going to stop. This is going to be a part of our community.”

School Business Administrator Steve Somnick describes the project.

Officials discuss project specifics

School Business Administrator Steven Somick gave a quick synopsis of the project. He said that ALNA, a construction company in Secaucus, won the bid for the project for approximately $39,497,000 and the Board of Education awarded it to the contractor at its December meeting.

In the main building and the adjacent building, there will be a lot of renovation work in both the front and rear parcel,” Somnick said. “There is going to be a ball field added in the back, an auditorium is in construction that’s going over part of the parking lot around the back. And there’s a bridge that’s going to go over Mazzoni Place.” 

Board of Commissioners Chairman Anthony Vainieri, who is running for chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, applauded the commencement of construction.

“We fought on the county level when the building was for sale, I said that the building is not going anywhere other than the North Bergen School District,” Vainieri said. “I don’t care what developer wants it or where they’re coming from… Then we have to come up with a price that’s affordable for the residents of taxpayers. We saved together about $6 or $7 million on the sale price. We bought the building for $10 million when the value was almost $20 million. I’m happy to work with the County Board of Commissioners and County Executive and administrative branch of the county to make this happen. This is a long time coming.” 

Mayor Nicholas Sacco praised the start of construction on necessary renovations to the school.

‘A great day for North Bergen’

According to Sacco, this is part of the district’s efforts to address overcrowding.

“We had a school system that was overcrowded,” Sacco said. “We had nowhere else to go. We tried many things. We built the kindergarten school, opened a preschool in the park, took over the St. John’s and became the Fulton Annex, and we expanded McKinley School. So we did our best, but we still couldn’t solve the problems that North Bergen had. Then this building became available to us.”

In addition to the township’s bond, the state also allocated $10 million in its 2021 budget for the project.

“We had the state, timely last year, put into their budget $10 million to help us purchase the building,” Sacco said. “I have to thank our governor for that, because without that, we wouldn’t be here today.”

The new school will alleviate overcrowding at North Bergen High School as well as the elementary schools.

“The high school is somewhat overcrowded,” Sacco said. “It was built for 1,800, but went up as high as 2,600 students. We expanded the best we could there. However, now the ninth graders will be leaving the high school and the population will go back to its normal size… It will take the overcrowded conditions out of the elementary schools and make them a lot more manageable and at the same time, the vocational program will open up down here. It would be something new for our students. So we’ve had many plans. They’re finally coming true.”

Construction on renovations to the interior and exterior of the school are underway. Photo by Art Schwartz.

Sacco thanked all those involved in the project and looked forward to it being open in 2023.

 “It’s a really great day for North Bergen,” Sacco said. “We are finally solving our biggest problem, getting our school system to operate in a sane, sensitive manner with the numbers that we have. And our children will receive a great education.”

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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