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NJ “Green,” Energy policies ignored in SDA Trenton High proposal

September 23, 2009
Trenton Central High School today

Trenton Central High School today

The State of New Jersey has some pretty lofty sustainability and energy goals.  Gov. Corzine has stated that “the future of our economy lies in our ability to be more energy-efficient and to create the jobs of the future today.”  How unfortunate that the Schools Development Authority didn’t get that memo.

The agency’s proposal to demolish the landmark Trenton Central High School – saving only the tower and central facade as an “architectural pet” – is just about the most unsustainable plan devised by a government department in recent memory.

What happens when a 400,00 square foot building is demolished?  Existing buildings are vast repositories of energy.  It takes energy to manufacture or extract building materials, more energy to transport them to a construction site, still more energy to assemble them into a building. All of that energy is embodied in the finished structure and if the structure is demolished and landfilled, the energy locked up in it is totally wasted.   What’s more, the process of demolition itself uses more energy and, of course, the construction of a new building in place of the demolished one uses more yet.

The SDA's plan.  A "new" High school building would be in the upper left corner behind the ball fields.

The SDA's plan. A "new" High school building would be in the upper right, on the site of the ball fields.

Even with all the “green” bells and whistles the SDA promises they’ll play in building a new “replacement” for a structurally sound and easily modernized Trenton High, we bet it will take a century at least to recapture the energy wasted by wholesale demolition.  (Think an SDA school will last that long?)  Not to mention the landfill environmental costs.

Meanwhile, the children of Trenton will get a “cookie cutter” school with no more state-of-the-art computers, technology and other educational facilities than they would in a beautifully modernized landmark Trenton High.

Sustainability experts have long recognized that renovation, modernization and rehabilitation is much more labor intensive (read: more jobs, SDA) than new construction.  More local building materials are used in renovation, meaning less environmental cost in transporting them.

Tonight’s presentation by the team that has developed “A Better Plan for Trenton High School” will highlight the dubious claims of SDA that demolition and all new construction will be faster and cheaper.  The meeting of the Facilities Advisory Board begins at 6:30 tonight in the district’s central office at 108 N. Clinton Ave.

We all know that Trenton students will be cheated out of the rich learning experience that an environmentally sound school modernization project at a historically significant and revered landmark will offer if SDA gets its not so inexpensive way.

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