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Long-Awaited SDA Assessment Reports Document Serious Facilities Deficiencies in Four NJ Schools

June 5, 2014

In response to a request by Education Law Center, the Schools Development Authority (SDA) recently released Facilities Conditions Assessment Reports for four schools with serious facility deficiencies that have been awaiting repair under the agency’s 2012 capital plan. All four schools – Camden High School, Orange High School, Cleveland Street Elementary School in Orange, and Connors Elementary School in Hoboken – are identified in the SDA’s portfolio of active capital projects as undergoing “[s]cope development with DOE and District.”

The reports come a full half-year after ELC’s initial request was denied by the SDA. ELC was represented by the ACLU-NJ in a lawsuit under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) that challenged the denial. Ultimately, the SDA finalized the reports and sent them to ELC. The final documents contain redactions of sections related to fire protection, security, and technology, because that information was “deemed critical to the safety of the school and its occupants by the SDA.” While OPRA exempts information that presents a security risk from disclosure, ELC will press for further information about the redactions to ensure that significant facilities issues are not being hidden from parents whose children attend these schools.

Assessments of the four schools, completed in 2012 and 2013, reveal multiple, significant health and safety and other structural defects in need of repair. For example, the SDA found the following issues at Camden High School, which serves 735 students and was originally built in 1916, with additions completed in 1959 and 1970:

  • interior courtyard walls, brick chimney, and terra cotta features in poor condition;
  • rusting and rotting exterior scaffolding (intended to protect passersby from falling terra cotta);
  • roofs in need of replacement;
  • broken and damaged student lockers;
  • structural and other concerns with the 1959 and 1970 bridges connecting the main building with its annex and vocational wing;
  • 15% of toilets not working in parts of the school;
  • all water fountains out of service due to concerns about water safety;
  • electrical hazards.

Hoboken’s Connors School, built in 1908 and serving 300 students, suffers from water seepage, missing and loose flashing, possible sinking of the basement floor, and an inadequate ventilation system. Documented problems at Orange’s Cleveland School, which was built in 1898 and serves 295 students, include water infiltration, boiler leaks, areas of rotten wood subflooring, and non-functioning windows. Neither elementary school offers adequate playground space for students – the SDA notes limited playground space at Connors and no dedicated playground at Cleveland Street, with paved areas used for recess.

The SDA’s assessment of Orange High School, constructed in 1974 and housing approximately 783 students,  documents serious deficiencies, such as windowless interior rooms used as classrooms, cracked concrete, and an inadequate hot water heating system, as well as overcrowding as demonstrated by the use of four, double-wide, temporary classroom units. This assessment provides glaring examples of the educational inadequacy of Orange High School, which has:

  • no auditorium;
  • no stage;
  • no outdoor recreation areas or athletic fields for student use.

“The significance of the release of these SDA reports cannot be overestimated,” said Elizabeth Athos, ELC Senior Attorney. “Parents and educators have a right to know what the agency has found deficient or dangerous in their school buildings, and to pressure the agency to alleviate these situations as soon as possible.”

The SDA’s current construction portfolio consists of 39 “active” capital projects in 26 of the 31 SDA, or poor urban, districts. While many of these projects have been on SDA lists for years, development of the current portfolio began in 2011, following Governor Christie’s 2010 halt and review of the school construction program. The SDA reports that actual construction has commenced in only 9 of the 39 active projects. Fifteen, or 38%, of the active projects remain in the preliminary, scope development stage.

A fifth school on the list of those with serious facility deficiencies – Trenton Central High School – has been moving towards construction following a lawsuit brought by the district board of education and persistent community activism about the need for a new school. The last update provided by the SDA indicated that the district is identifying swing space in which to house students during construction. No schedule for the completion of construction is available, although the SDA’s general estimate is four to five years for project completion.

 

Press Contact:

Sharon Krengel
Policy and Outreach Director
skrengel@edlawcenter.org
973-624-1815, x 24