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TRENTON, NJ-The Garden State has a long-term $8.6 billion schools construction program in place, and now state officials want to use at least part of that to spur private investment in various communities. Under a so-called “demonstration project” just announced by Gov. James McGreevey, the state will spend $650 million in six communities on school projects specifically designed to encourage community redevelopment.

The key difference between the six newly designated locations and the rest of the schools construction program is that while the New Jersey Schools Construction Corp. (SCC) oversees the latter, it will be on the sidelines for the former. Other than providing funding, the SCC will turn things over to city-named development authorities.

“We are already building classrooms in 1,300 schools across the state,” says McGreevey. “But a school can be more than just a place to prepare children for the future. It can be the tool for the rebirth of a community.”

The six cities in which state officials hope to spur urban renewal through school construction are Union City, East Orange, New Brunswick, Trenton, Camden and Vineland. In each case, the stipulation is that the school-related project must incorporate community-related features, such as recreational facilities, libraries and community centers. The expectation by the state is that private investment – especially housing – will follow.

Of the six projects unveiled by McGreevey, the one in Union City is the most ambitious. The $366 million effort calls for a new 1,700-student high school, recreational facilities, a football field and a health center. The funding includes $91 million from the SCC, which will be leveraged by the Union City Redevelopment Authority for an additional $260 million in public/private investment.

In East Orange, an $89 million project includes a performing arts magnet community school combining the acclaimed Washington Academy of Music and the Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts on an 11-acre campus. The state’s $89 million is being leveraged with redevelopment projects already underway, including the Main Street Revitalization Area and the Walnut Street Redevelopment Area.

The rest of the state money being spent includes New Brunswick ($98 million), Trenton ($17 million), Camden ($40 million) and Vineland ($47 million).

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