New Jersey School Renovation Program Flourishes

TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has earned a reputation as a reformer and a deficit cutter, but that doesn’t mean he’s simply said ‘no’ to all spending indiscriminately.

Christie has stepped in multiple times with emergency funding to secure the future of dilapidated schools, using his state’s Emergent Project Program. The program, run by the state Schools Development Authority (SDA), is intended to identify schools in dire need of repair and rehabilitation and provide the necessary work before the facility is forced to shut down for health and safety issues. The SDA has completed more emergent projects for its current governor than under any prior administration, despite the fact that Christie came into a situation where the program was rudderless and its pocketbook was nearly empty. Christie re-launched the program in 2011, sending the SDA on its second statewide search for eligible schools in need of immediate work.

The newest project involves the replacement of two boilers at the Yorkship Elementary School in Camden, with a price tag of around $485,000. The 76,526-square-foot facility, built in 1920, educates 656 students in grades K-6.

This isn’t the SDA’s first trip to Camden, where the department has invested more than $261 million in already-completed projects in the past, including five capital projects, emergent projects, and 46 health and safety projects. SDA’s total active portfolio for current projects tops $2.2 billion, consisting of around 70 projects whittled down from over 700 requests.

In late July, Christie also announced more than $2.6 million in emergent repairs to begin at East Camden Middle School. The contract was awarded to GDS Mechanical Inc., of Morris Plains, N.J., to replace the heating and ventilation system at the 110,000-square-foot facility that serves 563 students in grades 6-8.

It was a big month for New Jersey’s school system, as the state also received $3.9 million in federal funding to expand its fresh fruit and vegetable program for the upcoming school year.

The program will grow from 143 schools to 155 this September, with nearly 76,000 students being served. The program will be applied to schools where 50 percent or more of students are eligible for reduced-price meals.

Christie has been widely embraced as a poster-boy by fiscal conservatives, but is also known for his bipartisanship. These qualities have earned the rising political star a keynote address at the Republican National Convention and many observers considered him a front-runner for his party’s vice presidential nomination before another young upstart, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, claimed the spot.