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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Jersey City STEM school moving to once-controversial location

Written by Laura Herzog

Jersey City officials have signed off on the moving of a middle school STEM program to a site that previously sparked debate between the city and the state-controlled public school district.

Jersey City's "Explore 2000 Middle School" will be moving from its Montgomery Street facility to the Jersey City Community Education and Recreation Center (CERC) on 9th Street next school year.

The move will allow the roughly 50-student center to accommodate 200 more students, according to Mayor Steven Fulop's office.

CERC previously housed preschool rooms rented by the Jersey City Board of Education, but in March 2014, the BOE was told by the mayor and the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) -- which owns CERC -- to pay more to rent for the preschool rooms. Otherwise, the city would find a new tenant, the Jersey Journal reported.

Jersey City parents feared the eviction of 60 pre-k students, given a shortage of space and the expanding need for pre-K as Jersey City develops, the Journal reported.

Jersey City's district spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the new location of Explore 2000.

Asked about a spat between the BOE and Fulop on Friday, city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill said the JCRA sought "a full use" for the facility. And the BOE had capacity in other facilities to absorb the 60 pre-K children, "as we said all along," she said.

"The city administration thought the STEM opportunity here will help fill another much needed gap in the [Jersey City] education system so in the end all needs will be met," Morrill said in an e-mail.

In a statement, Fulop praised the school, saying Explore 2000 offers students access to the "STEM" fields of science, technology, engineering and math, "giving them the tools necessary to succeed in high school, college and beyond."

On May 19, the JCRA board unanimously approved a five-year lease agreement with Hudson County Schools of Technology, allowing Explore 2000 to relocate to CERC for the 2015-2016 school year.

It included a renewal clause and an option to purchase the 9th Street facility, the release stated.

Morrill said the tenant will pay the following rent to the JCRA, plus all utilities: (Year 1) $150,000; (Year 2) $195,000; (Year 3) $241,000; (Year 4) $275,000; and (Year 5) $310,000. Jersey City offered to pay $78,000, according to the Jersey Journal.

Currently, the CERC contains classrooms that are not being used. The gymnasium is used by the St. Anthony's High School Basketball team and community groups, Morrill said, and they will continue to use the facility.

This switch-up will also let the school "develop new, hands-on lab space," the city said.

Though only 80 middle school students are enrolled for the fall, officials are hopeful the school will serve approximately 240 students by the 2019-2020 school year.

Explore 2000's Jersey City students can go on to competitive STEM-focused high schools, like the county's High Tech High School, the city stated.

Adults will also be offered career and educational programming at CERC, thanks to the partnership, the city said.

Praising the partnership, Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said "STEM education" is the "watchword today for young people in Hudson County dreaming of a brighter future."

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