Back in October of 2002, New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey presided over the groundbreakings of two new schools, one in Union City and one in West New York. For all those who gathered on that warm day, a sense of hope and optimism abounded, for a new school is always cause for celebration.
However, the throwing of a few clumps of dirt by local politicos in a ceremonial groundbreaking cannot really replace the feeling of actually seeing the product come to fruition. Both the Union City and West New York projects are moving along at an outstanding clip, especially considering the inherent problems that can occur on any large-scale construction project.
The Reporter last week toured the almost completed facility in West New York located on Broadway, directly behind Memorial High School.
Last year, New Jersey State Commissioner of Education William Librera said, "Union City and West New York are districts that work. There are other communities that are arguing about what wing to put where, but here in Union City and West New York, you have people doing real work and making real decisions. We want to showcase the places where people work, to celebrate these grand achievements.”
And "grand" is certainly a word that can describe what is coming together on the site between 57th and 54th Streets. What was just a few months ago an empty, unused athletic field and an aging recreation center, is quickly shaping up to be what could quite possibly be considered the "crown jewel" of Hudson County schools.
The project, according to West New York Superintendent of Schools Anthony Yankovich, will be completed by April or May "depending on the weather," and will come in at budget and on time. The facility will house approximately 940 seventh and eight graders. The school will, however, have the capacity for 1,100 students. From the beginning, the plan behind this school was to bring the seventh and eighth graders out of the grammar schools and into their own, dedicated facility. This, according to school officials, will have a two-fold effect: Firstly, it will alleviate the massive overcrowding that currently exists in the town’s grammar schools. And secondly, it will put seventh and eighth graders in their own environment that will hopefully prepare them for the high school experience that awaits all of them.
The projected cost of the project was $29.794 million, according to Prismatic Project Manager Grant Macdonald. Prismatic, a Fairfield, N.J.-based general contractor, is in charge of the construction of the facility. The project is being managed and overseen by the London, U.K.- based Bovis-Lend Lease Corporation.
The building was designed, and is being constructed, according to Prismatic officials, with the future in mind. From the fire protection systems to computer terminals to a "sub floor" that will hold nothing but heating and cooling equipment (keeping the various machines out of the elements and easily worked on should the need arise), the facility is state-of-the-art.
Dominated by a three-story entrance way and atrium that will be almost completely encased in glass, and a roof over the atrium featuring 25 four-by-four skylights, even on the cloudiest days, the school will be flooded with natural light. And according to the officials present at last week’s tour, that was the plan from the start.
Said West New York Superintendent of Schools Anthony Yankovich, "Natural light will have a very positive effect on the psychology of everyone in the building. It will be a bright, happy place."
In fact, the state of New Jersey has mandated that all new school construction meet stringent standards of environmental efficiency, which includes the use of natural light to reduce the need for expensive fluorescent lighting.
In a September 14, 2003 Reporter article, an architect working on another school construction project in West New York stated that the State of New Jersey has mandated that any newly-built school be as energy conservative as possible. To this end, the new schools that are to be built in West New York will minimize the use of florescent lighting and maximize the use of windows, allowing natural light to flow in to the learning spaces.
So, obviously, this is a town-wide initiative, not just one school.
"Oh, absolutely, said West New York Mayor Albio Sires. "We look forward to rebuilding and upgrading all of our schools."
Some of the amenities that the new facility will feature are a 650-seat auditorium, which according to Project Manager Grant Macdonald will include a "sophisticated curtain system. There won’t be just a black curtain hanging down in front of the performers."
The school will also feature a full working kitchen, which, unlike other, older schools, will actually prepare the food for the children "in-house," instead of getting pre-prepared food delivered to the school and warming it up. Said West New York Mayor Albio Sires, "I fought really hard for that. I didn’t want to have to bid out to food service companies and I wanted the kids to have good, almost home-cooked meals."
Three periods of 250-300 students each will dine on the fresh-cooked food each day.
The old recreation center on the site remains standing but has been subsumed by the new school. The original gymnasium floor will be left (and completely refurbished) but the original showers and locker rooms will be replaced with a two-story locker-room facility. The cavernous gymnasium, according to Sires, will be divided into three sections and will become the main location for all recreation department activities.
According to Macdonald, a feature that the new facility will boast is "zoned" heating and cooling. Basically, thanks to a sophisticated heating and cooling system, each classroom will have its own thermostat. Gone are the days of the whole school building either being and oven or an icebox. Each teacher will have control over the temperature. Said Macdonald, "This is a very efficient design, but it is also very comfortable."
Each of the three student floors will feature four separate yet similar science labs.
Moving to the outside of the facility, the old baseball field that previously occupied much of the site will be, according to officials, completely re-done and transformed into a state-of-the-art sports and recreation facility. Prismatic official Grant Macdonald said, "The outer perimeter of the field will be a rubberized asphalt track and on the inside will be a combination football, baseball and soccer field which will feature ‘Field Turf’ which is exactly what is on the playing field at Giants Stadium." Macdonald also mentioned that the Field Turf representative offered to paint the end zones of the football field whatever color the district wanted (most likely Memorial Tiger orange), free of charge.
New lighting will also be installed to facilitate night games.
The whole site will be surrounded by a concrete wall with an ornamental fence on top, and according to West New York Mayor Albio Sires, the same ornamental lamps which grace the business district on Bergenline Avenue will sit along Broadway for the length of the wall.
Said Sires at the conclusion of the tour, "This project means West New York is headed into the future. The school will have all the amenities: a stage, home-cooked food, computers- kids are going to want to come to school. We want the facility to be as much a part of the community as possible."