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“A Better High School Plan for Trenton” is on the table

September 29, 2009

Last Wednesday, “A Better High School Plan for Trenton,” a coalition of local advocates who has proposed a plan for Trenton

TCHS, 1937. Image courtesy of Tom Glover.

TCHS, 1937. Image courtesy of Tom Glover.

Central High School that saves money and time over the Schools Development Authority’s (SDA) plan for new construction, presented their proposal to a packed Trenton Board of Education (BoE) meeting. The group stressed the inefficiency and lack of environmental responsibility in the SDA’s plan and its disregard for the unique, engaging  educational opportunity represented by the historic TCHS.   Joining PNJ and the coalition in expressing opposition to demolition and support for modernization was the TCHS 2009 AIA-NJ (American Institute of Architects).   The SDA has agreed to review “A Better Plan for Trenton High School” and advise the Trenton BoE of their comments.

At this meeting, community members introduced several points worth exploring from a historic preservation standpoint. City of Trenton South Ward Council candidate Paul Harris attended the meeting, and has posted a complete audio recording of the proceedings. Both in the meeting and on his website, Mr. Harris brings up concern about creating local jobs and ensuring that this project benefits the local workforce. Statistics from across the country show that adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of historic buildings is an economic stimulus. According to Partners in Prosperity: The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation in New Jersey, published by the New Jersey Historic Trust, preservation creates 10,140 jobs in our state annually, and each $1 million spent on non-residential historic rehabilitation creates two   more jobs than would the same investment in new construction. State-by-state studies from throughout the U.S. indicate the same effects: an investment in historic rehabilitation, particularly one of the scale and comprehensiveness as would be required at TCHS, is an investment in your local economy.

Another major community concern involves the immediate needs of the building. TCHS is rapidly deteriorating, and has been for some time. Several citizens voiced the need for interim stabilization of the facility during the planning and implementation of whatever approach is chosen. When asked about plans for the current building, the SDA, in the spirit of fiscal responsibility, expressed hesitancy to make repairs or any upgrades to the current building if it is simply to be replaced in the coming years.  While a logical decision from a financial standpoint, this conclusion keeps students in the current substandard conditions throughout the planning and construction of a new school, while undoubtedly, deterioration progresses. On the other hand, if a rehabilitation were pursued, the needed repairs could constitute the initial phases of an overall plan to rehabilitate the facility. These repairs would then be sound investments in the future of TCHS, halting the deterioration now and beginning immediate progress toward improving life at TCHS for its thousands of current and future students.

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