>In a 2005 audit, the state's inspector general, Mary >Jane Cooper, concluded that the schools corporation was >susceptible to "mismanagement, fiscal malfeasance, >conflicts of interest and waste, fraud and abuse of >taxpayer dollars,"
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/08/nyregion/08build.html?ref=education April 8, 2007 $187 Million Public School, Under a Cloud in New Jersey By WINNIE HU NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., April 5 ? The new high school here will not be endowed with luxuries like a food court, a swimming pool or a greenhouse, even though at $187 million it is one of the most expensive to be built in the state?s history.
It would have cost $30 million more had an additional wing of classrooms and an auxiliary gym not been shelved to save money. As it is, the price tag covers the land, the design and the construction costs for a 407,000-square-foot school on a 26-acre property along Route 27.
If it is ever finished.
This month, the Schools Construction Corporation, the state agency financing the campus, is expected to suspend work on some of the 40 projects it is developing because it has run out of money.
The corporation has not announced which projects might be delayed, but it has said the New Brunswick high school?s budget has soared by nearly a third since 2004, mainly because of costs associated with labor, construction materials and relocation of tenants.
The sharp increase has led to renewed scrutiny of the schools corporation, which is charged with constructing schools in the state?s poorest urban neighborhoods.
?We need to build new schools, but we shouldn?t be building palaces,? said Assemblyman Bill Baroni, a Republican from Mercer County. ?A $187 million high school is a slap in the face of taxpayers,? he continued. ?It doesn?t help the students, and it doesn?t help the taxpayers.?
The schools corporation was created in 2002, four years after the State Supreme Court ruled that students in the poorest city schools should have buildings and resources comparable to those in the wealthiest suburbs. The State Legislature has approved $8.6 billion in school construction bonds, setting aside $6 billion for the poorer districts.
The construction agency has completed 30 schools and preschool centers and 26 renovations. But it has deferred 315 projects because of fiscal pressures, corporation officials said.
Last fall, a task force appointed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine recommended that the corporation be given an additional $3.25 billion to finish building schools. Many state legislators have rejected that proposal, criticizing the corporation?s spending.
In a 2005 audit, the state?s inspector general, Mary Jane Cooper, concluded that the schools corporation was susceptible to ?mismanagement, fiscal malfeasance, conflicts of interest and waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars,? though she has since noted improvements.
Scott A. Weiner, who took over operations of the schools corporation about a year ago, said he had made several changes, like establishing a department to oversee project budgets and timetables.
?There was a large amount of waste that was a legacy of the previous administration, and that?s been well documented,? said Mr. Weiner, the corporation?s chief executive.
Officials of the corporation announced on Thursday that they would take action against the contractor, architect and project manager working on Midtown Community Elementary School, a $42 million project that had been nearing completion in Neptune Township.
Officials said the school?s brick facade would have to be torn down because of mold contamination in the walls, a job that will cost more than $5 million and delay the opening by a year, to September 2008.
David Mooij, superintendent of the 4,600-student Neptune district, said that some students were attending classes in trailers because the old school, which dated to the 1920s, was torn down last year in anticipation of the new building?s opening. When completed, Midtown will serve 500 students.
?It?s a disappointment because they saw the building go up, and now some of them won?t actually be able to go to it,? Mr. Mooij said.
The corporation faced a similar situation last year when it was forced to tear down part of a new elementary school in Trenton, the Martin Luther King Jr.-Thomas Jefferson School, after contaminated soil was found under the building.
The New Brunswick school, which had been expected to be finished by 2010, will consolidate the existing New Brunswick High School and two satellite campuses.
Plans call for 33 regular classrooms, 6 art rooms, 3 music rooms and 10 science labs, as well as special-use classrooms, an auditorium, gymnasium, media center, health center, day care area and cafeteria. The campus will include fields for soccer, baseball and softball.
Mr. Weiner said the cost for the actual construction ? estimated at $290 a square foot ? was in line with costs for other school projects in the region.
He said the large size of the school, which will house 2,000 students, pushed up the budget of the project.
The New Brunswick school is among the most expensive projects in the nation. A $141 million high school going up in Newton, Mass., will be the most expensive public school in that state, and New York City is moving ahead with a $235 million project in Mott Haven, in the Bronx, that will serve 2,400 students.
Mayor James M. Cahill of New Brunswick said enrollment in the city?s public schools had nearly doubled to 7,700 since 1991.
He said the new campus would allow the existing high school to be converted to a middle school, which in turn would free up room in the city?s nine elementary schools.
?It?s the most critical development project that we have right now,? he said, ?because the enrollment of our schools continues to grow.?