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Thursday, October 2, 2014

$150 million move for one of Hudson County's high schools

Written by Matthew Speiser

Reviving a nearly 10-year-old idea, Hudson County is ramping up plans to move High Tech High School from its North Bergen location to a new campus in Secaucus.

"For a while it seemed like a good idea that would never happen," said Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise. "But now it seems the (freeholders) vote could happen within the next six months."

The relocation of High Tech and the other county school, County Prep in Jersey City, has been a topic of discussion for many years. But with major renovations underway at County Prep, county officials changed their minds.

Officials also said that a majority of County Prep students live in Jersey City, and it made sense to keep the school at its current home on Montgomery Street.

The decision to secure the funds and guarantee the High Tech move will likely be voted upon by the county freeholders in the coming months, thanks to a recent grant given by the state Schools Development Authority, DeGise said.

"We've conceptually approved the project," said Hudson County Freeholder Bill O'Dea. "Now the county has to vote on the amount they will contribute."

The relocation will cost an estimated $150 million, of which the state has already agreed to contribute 59 percent, or roughly $88.5 million, DeGise said. The county would have to pay the other $61.5 million, officials said.

Part of the county's share of the cost would come from selling the 15-acre plot of land in North Bergen where High Tech is currently located.

That land is valued at somewhere between $15 million and $20 million, according to Frank Gargiulo, superintendent of the Hudson County Schools of Technology.

"It makes a lot of sense to move, otherwise we're going to keep pouring money into a bad property," Gargiulo said if the High Tech facility, a converted factory between rail lines and the heavily trafficked Tonnelle Avenue.

The new campus would be located on county-owned property currently leased to Field Station: Dinosaurs, close to Secaucus Junction and the famous Snake Hill on the Hackensack River.

"It's a very distinct geography over there," said DeGise. "We plan to incorporate that into the curriculum, (and) it was one of the things that attracted the decision-makers in Trenton."

Gargiulo plans on adding many amenities to the campus that are worthy of High Tech's academic reputation.

"We have one of the best performing arts and music programs in the state," said Gargiulo. "We need to add a theater and a sound-proof music room, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) facilities such as an engineering lab."

The reason it has taken so long for the plan to be put into action is that the county has spent the better part of the past 10 years waiting for the state Department of Education to approve the project and provide funding, O'Dea said.

During that time, Gargiulo secured an estimated $18 million in county money to renovate County Prep in Jersey City. That renovation will include a brand new gymnasium and several new science classrooms. Construction has already started on the project.

O'Dea added that the new Secaucus campus will be completed roughly three years after the funding is approved.

"If we can get this to happen, we will be set for a while," said DeGise. "We will have two state-of-the-art schools in Hudson County.

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