New Jersey governor Chris Christie visited Camden Tuesday to announce a multimillion-dollar plan for renovating one of the city’s largest high schools.
No one doubts that Camden High School needs the help. Among its many problems: It’s literally falling apart. Plans to renovate the century-old “Castle on the Hill” have been in the works for years, but Christie made it official with Tuesday’s announcement.
“The state will invest at least $50 million to rehabilitate this iconic building,” Christie said. “We will turn this into a 21st century building … so that all of the students have access to the extraordinary educational opportunities that are available.
“What’s held them back is the building itself. It’s not the quality of the the teachers, not the quality of the students, not the interest of the parents.”
Superintendent of Schools Paymon Rouhanifard said Camden High needs a full-scale makeover — everything from roofs to walls, wiring to windows.
“The problem with this building is that it’s basically structurally unsound,” Rouhanifard said. “The boiler [is] constantly going out of service. We’ve got HVAC issues. So we’ve got to … gut and rehab the facility, and then think about how we can create four independent learning communities here.”
The goal, Rouhanifard said, is to expand the school’s overall enrollment, while fashioning the learning communities, including a “career and technical” academy focused on vocational education.
This is the second plan aimed at overcoming Camden High’s persistent structural problems. The first was unveiled in 2009 under the Corzine administration, with a price tag of more than $100 million. Christie put that plan on hold when he took office – along with all other projects then being planned by the Schools Development Authority, which Christie called “wasteful.”
Rouhanifard said the Corzine-era plan also bogged down in local debates over what exactly to spend and how. He hopes a better public planning process will help avoid a repeat.
“We’re certainly not here to point the finger, but there have been so many promises broken in this building,” he said. “We’re just really excited to be in a place where we can move the project forward. It’s taken us awhile to get here.”