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State agency proposes demolition of Trenton High School

August 12, 2009
02 Trenton Central HS - sm

Trenton Central High School

NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA) chief Kris Kolluri announced this week the state’s intention to tear down Trenton Central High School and completely replace it, in spite of significant community opposition and expert opinion that rehab of the historic edifice is cheaper and “greener.”

The SDA’s announcement begs for a realistic analysis and robust public response.   Preservation New Jersey will be interested to see the “controlled” results of the SDA’s latest cost estimates that justify their decision to demolish the landmark school.  Remember that the last estimates – make that bids – for a rehabilitated Trenton High, with significant additions and to accommodate 600 more students than today’s proposal, was $20 million less (at then higher prices for labor and materials) than the current proposed cost for demolition and new construction.

It is clear that the issue is not money, but policy.  Apparently, the SDA has adopted a policy of tearing down every beloved, historic school in New Jersey’s cities, while leaving the suburbs, like Princeton, Morristown and Summit, to be able to restore their landmark school buildings as beautiful, state-of-the-art educational facilities.

It’s certainly not about sustainable, “green” goals, either.  Demolition of Trenton and Camden High Schools is about as un-green as possible: wasted embodied energy and tons of building materials in landfills.  It has been demonstrated time and again that, no matter the high tech “green” features, it will take far longer than the useful life of a new building to recapture the negative carbon footprint of demolishing these community icons.

Camden High School, the "Castle on the Hill"

Camden High School, the "Castle on the Hill"

Pennsylvania is among the many states where a more reasonable and far-sighted policy has been followed.  (See Pennsylvania’s Guidelines for School Rehabilitation and New Construction.)  The Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association has published a “Case for restoring and reusing older school buildings” that features many examples of beautiful historic schools renovated to 21st standards for less money than demolition and new construction.  And Pennsylvania’s Environmental Protection Secretary, Kathleen McGinty, points out that demolishing an existing building generates 20 to 30 times as much debris as new construction, while renovating makes use of existing materials.  “Renovation requires more ingenuity and labor than new construction, but human creativity and (an) abundant labor force are perhaps (our) most valuable renewable resource.”

Is the SDA suggesting that New Jersey has neither the creativity nor the skilled labor force that can rise to the challenge of rehabilitating historic schools in our cities?   It’s time for the SDA to educate itself about sense of community, actual costs, and meaningful green design so that children in New Jersey’s cities can receive the high quality education they deserve in the beautiful, well built and historic neighborhood schools they also deserve.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2009 11:03 am

    Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s policy for school districts seeking state financial assistance for construction:
    “School districts should take all reasonable efforts to preserve and protect school buildings that are on or eligible for local or national historic registers. If for safety, educational, economic, or other reasons, it is not feasible to renovate an existing school building, school districts are encouraged to develop an adaptive reuse plan for the building that incorporates a historic easement or covenant to avoid the building’s abandonment or demolition.”

  2. ThisOldHouse permalink
    August 14, 2009 5:28 pm

    I wonder if the concern is school security, particularly in urban schools. The large new high schools I’ve seen in central NJ (e.g., New Brunswick, Franklin Twp.) have the air of minimum security prisons–curved halls without corners, security desks at each stairwell, easily monitored classrooms and halls, and set back from driveways and access roads, to deal with crowds.
    Is there socioeconomic prejudice at work, which permits well-to-do towns to maintain their historic schools, yet requires the demolition of urban schools?

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  1. Pennsylvania shows the way for historic schools as models « PreserveNJ

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