New Jersey health system's $750M cancer hospital may hinge on school board vote

RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey's plan to build a $750 million cancer hospital hinges on a key approval from a local school board, according to

West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas and New Brunswick, N.J.-based Rutgers Cancer Institute plan to build the cancer hospital on a 1.6-acre parcel of land across from the RWJ University Hospital in New Brunswick.

Currently, the New Brunswick school district owns the property, and recently opened an elementary school for 750 children on the site about three years ago. The school is called Lincoln Annex. 

If the school board votes to sell the site, RWJBarnabas will spend $55 million to build a replacement school about a mile away on a 3.2-acre lot. City officials back the plan, saying there will be more room for athletic fields and parking. 

But a group of parents and city activists oppose the planUntil the new.  school is built, students would attend classes in a 100,000-square-foot converted warehouse that has been used when other schools were under construction.

"They just opened this school three years ago. It just doesn’t make any sense. These are hard-working people who deserve to be treated with more respect," Lilia Fernández, an associate professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies at Rutgers who is keeping a close eye on the project, told the publication. "The question I would ask is would Robert Wood Johnson executives send their kids to a warehouse? Why is it OK to send these kids to a warehouse?"

DEVCO, the private development firm overseeing the cancer hospital project, said that using the school property makes the most sense because it is so close to the existing hospital that they could build skywalks connecting the two facilities. 

DEVCO President Christopher Paladino also told the publication that the community will benefit because RWJBarnabas will foot the bill for the new hospital. 

"There is no money at the state level to build new schools. This would not come from taxpayers," he said.

New Brunswick Mayor Jim Cahill said the organizations have a strong case that the best site is the Lincoln Annex school site.

"I'm convinced reasonable people, when looking at the future of New Brunswick, why would you hold on to a school of insufficient size which lacks amenities and doesn’t meet the needs of the community today? Reasonable people will agree this is an opportunity," Mr. Cahill told the publication.

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