Is Stevens-Hoboken Partnership a conflict?

Citizens of Hoboken:

Remember that windstorm a couple of weeks ago, which blew all that filthy grit into your skin, eyes, and lungs? Thanks to excavating by the Stevens Institute of Technology permitted by the City of Hoboken, that could have contained asbestos.

In the 04-28-02 HR, John Keim rightly questioned the wisdom of the Hoboken-Stevens Educational Partnership to create a technical magnet school. At the first of two public meetings where this partnership venture was hyped, I pointed out that Stevens had the most to gain from the Partnership: City support for its bid to obtain and develop the Maxwell House (MH) site on Hoboken’s northern waterfront.

Developers Gans and Vallone (G&V) are presently trying to obtain Planning Board approval for a huge 1000-unit residential / commercial project on that site. Unfortunately, Hoboken already has thousands of units which are approved, under construction, or recently built. Even before most of these units are occupied, the impact of this over-development is being felt: traffic and parking problems, noise and air pollution, and stress on antiquated sewer, water, and electrical infrastructure not only lower our quality of life, but cost the taxpayers plenty.

Under the proposed partnership, Stevens would build a “Technogenesis Center” (a fancy name for more residential and office development) on the MH site. When I expressed concern that, through the Partnership, the City would be sponsoring more development, Mayor Roberts replied that he didn’t want to talk about development, he wanted to talk about education.

So let’s talk about the proposed new technical high school.

First, the Partnership wants a new school built on waterfront land that Hoboken will buy from Stevens after they acquire it from G&V. Even if some of the money for the school comes from the state, taxpayers will pay for the land and school construction.

But why would G&V sell to Stevens when they can make more money developing themselves? Because the Hoboken Planning Board has the power and obligation to reject the environmentally disastrous G&V project. But in partnership with the City, Stevens could get Board approval that G&V could not, creating a basis for a real estate deal among G&V, Stevens, and the City.

The City would thus give Stevens help in acquiring the MH site and immediate profit by buying land for the school. What does Hoboken get?

The sales pitch is that the school will provide superior education to Hoboken’s youth. Stevens’s own literature says that their contribution to the Partnership is to “train teachers  in Hoboken’s schools … in meaningful ways to use new information technologies in the classroom.”

Why does the Partnership need a new school on the waterfront? Hoboken already has a lot of underutilized school real estate. Hoboken High School, e.g., has about 600 students and room for 1500. So while the taxpayers pay for a new school, the existing schools become empty. Will the City then sell these schools to developers? Why not house the new technical school in an existing school?

Partnership representatives claim that the new school will be exclusively for Hoboken students. But how many will be able to benefit from it? A rigorous technical education requires a level of aptitude, interest, motivation, and work that will discourage or exclude many Hoboken students. If only a few Hoboken students can attend the new school, then most of its population will not be from Hoboken, making it a private school built with public funds.

The school sounds like an expensive proposition for the taxpayers with little benefit to Hoboken’s students, and of course, an excuse for more development.

Don’t get me wrong: I am a Stevens graduate myself (Ph.D. in Physics), and I appreciate the education they can provide. But my concern is not Stevens as an educator, but Stevens as a real estate developer. Their record is cause for concern.

They planned to build a ruinous 800 car garage on Hudson Street which was only stopped by a tremendous organized citizen effort that brought Stevens under Hoboken’s zoning laws for the first time. They are proposing to move their block-long Davidson Laboratory from Hudson Street to the waterfront, which would allow them to bring more development to Hudson Street.

And they are excavating the asbestos-laden serpentine rock adjacent to River Road to build a 750-car garage without first obtaining required zoning permits and without consideration of the health consequences of releasing asbestos into the air.

Could it be that the Partnership has created a conflict of interest that prevents the City from protecting its own citizens? Is such a Public-Private Partnership inherently a conflict?

Daniel Tumpson


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