Explosive news from Hoboken

Explosive news from Hoboken
Paul Mulshine, Star Ledger columnist
Sunday, March 05, 2006

Our bachelor governor, as you may know, has a pad in Hoboken, the mile- square city on the Hudson that is as close to paradise for young, upwardly mobile people as anywhere on Earth.

Hoboken is also a paradise for politicians. That's why it's classified as one of the state's so-called "Abbott" school districts. The Abbotts are also called the "poor" school districts, despite the fact that these days you have to be rich to move into some of them. A garden-variety millionaire could own a million- dollar rowhouse in Hoboken and a $2 million condo in Long Branch and still have a good chunk of his property-tax bill subsidized by the working people of New Jersey. This is the logic, such as it is, of the state Supreme Court's many decisions in the Abbott vs. Burke education-funding case.

In one of those decisions, the court declared in 1998 that the Abbott districts, of which there are 31, would get new schools paid for by the rest of us -- at a cost then estimated at $6 billion. Hoboken was slated to get, among other things, a new high school, even though its current high school is modern, large and luxurious. That school has a huge gym, a wonderful auditorium and a swimming pool.

Last September, when Corzine was a mere candidate for governor, I visited his town and asked his fellow Hobokenite Carmelo Garcia why a new school was needed.

"You've got the burners that don't work," said Garcia, who is president of the school board. "You've got the antiquated boilers."

I assumed that the "burners" in question were giant oil burners that would cost millions to replace. But after the column ran, a reader corrected me. It turned out that the burners to which Garcia alluded were the Bunsen burners in the labs. I then wrote another column noting that Bunsen burners can be had for a mere $19.95 on the Internet. Replacing the old burners, I reasoned, would make more sense than spending $100 million on a new school.

But I come from Ocean County, where both the pace of life and the politicians are a bit slower than in Hudson County. I still didn't get it, another reader told me after that column ran. His name was Mike Rapp, and he grew up in Brooklyn, so he's a bit more street-smart than I am.

The Bunsen burners worked just fine, Rapp told me in an e-mail. The problem was the kids. Left to their own devices, the kids at Hoboken High would leave the burners on, fill the school with gas, and blow it up.

This sounded so nutty that I was about to put Rapp's e-mail address in my junk-mail folder. Instead I wrote back to him. I learned that he works for a contracting firm, Binsky and Snyder, that has an excellent reputation in the field. Coincidentally enough, the firm did the redesign work at The Star-Ledger's skyscraper here in Newark. So I knew Rapp was serious.

But I didn't pursue the matter at the time on the theory that whoever won the election would have to realize the state is broke and this nonsense has to stop. Nope. The Corzine people let loose a report recently suggesting that the state needs to borrow another $13 billion to finish up the projects in Hoboken and the other "poor" districts. So I gave Rapp a call to ask a question that had been nagging me for several months.

"Why don't they just have the teacher make sure the burners are turned off before they lock up the lab for the day?" I asked.

"A student could still break into the classroom, turn on the gas and blow up the school," Rapp replied. Anyway, that's what school officials told him when visited Hoboken High last year.

He agreed with me that it's a lovely building.

"It's probably one of the most palatial schools I've ever been in," said Rapp. "It's so vast inside. The hallway reminded me of Radio City Music Hall. It's a beautiful school. It's a beautiful neighborhood."

Rapp gave the state a bid to repair the boilers and to install emergency cut-off switches for the burners.

"A hundred and forty thousand would have done everything, but we never heard about it," he said.

That sounds nutty until you consider that, from the perspective of the local politicians, a new school is free. So why fix the old school?

That's the mentality that permitted the Schools Construction Corp. to go through $6 billion faster than a carjacker blasting through an E-ZPass lane. The next $13 billion will be spent every bit as quickly under Corzine's watchful eye, I expect.

All I can say is, I hope they get that new school up before the kids blow up the old one. The sound of the explosion might bother the yuppies.


Comments (0)

New comments are currently disabled.

Email to Friend

Fill in the form below to send this article to a friend:

Email to Friend
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
* Friend's Name:
* Friend's Email:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image
* Message: