Handwashing | Teen Ink


September 29, 2007
By Anonymous


A significant problem is going on in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It is an argument over a piece of land to be used for construction of a new school that would provide children with an education or constructing a strip mall that would provide jobs.

The Board of Education (EBOE) of Elizabeth, New Jersey was interested in acquiring land to expand Elizabeth High School in 2004. Their plan was to buy a piece of land but the city’s mayor, Chris Bollwage, disagreed with selling the land to them. Mayor Bollwage planned to sell it to Luis Rodriguez, a local land developer for $ 520,000.The mayor offered the land to the EBOE for $5.1 million.
The piece of land is located on a former New Jersey Transit Facility at 801- 871 Livingston Street. The sale was originally proposed to Luis Rodriguez who is the owner of Vilu Construction. He represents Trumbull Street Business Center LLC, a local business group. Mayor Chris Bollwage of Elizabeth was selling 4.1 acres of land needing environmental remediation: city officials planned to ultimately turn the land into a strip mall. Former President of EBOE, Pastor Burgos stated, (A recent interview with this reporter) “Mayor Chris Bollwage and Luis Rodriguez are both friends and seem to have a plan to build 38 residential units and a small strip mall.” Elizabeth Board of Education wanted to purchase the land, but the City of Elizabeth assessed the property at $5.1 million As a result, the Elizabeth Board of Education wants to purchase the piece of land for the same amount Mr. Rodriguez would pay: $520,000.

This problem was taken to court on February 1, 2005. There, President of EBOE, Rafael Fajardo said, “The district can afford $5 million, but, I ask you, should we pay a penny more than 520,000?”referring to the sale price the council approved for Rodriguez’s corporation. Election Records show that Rodriguez’s Vilu Construction contributed thousands to the mayor’s re-election campaign in 2004. Pastor Burgos asserted, “The Board of Education owned the property for 2-3 months in 2000. Mayor Chris Bollwage went to court to obtain the land again. Usually, Mayor Bollwage would give the board land to build a school but he said, ‘No’ this time. EBOE was about to build a school on the land when Mayor Bollwage switched them”. Pastor Burgos also said, “ Mayor Chris Bollwage was angry. He wanted to sell the land without the Board of Education knowing. The Elizabeth Board of Education found out by luck. They went to the hall of county records and found out it was for sale. As a result, Mayor Bollwage wanted to sell the land quicker and assessed the property at $5.1 million for the Board of Education.” Mayor Bollwage has denied the sale is politically motivated. Former Third Ward Councilman, Robert Jaspan questioned, “Why is the council considering an amended appraisal on that Trumbull Street property when it still was planning to sell the NJ Transit property for a low figure.... It behooves the city council to look into it and to see why the administration is selling it for such a low dollar amount.” The EBOE pursued an action requesting that a restraining order be issued. The attorneys and staff from both entities met the judge which yielded a consensus from both sides. The result was a restraining order on the sale of the property for the next 90 days. The school board is having discussions with the City of Elizabeth on transferring the property to them. Pastor Burgos claimed, “The 90 day result gave time for the board to gain the property since it was still available. The land would have been sold if not went to court.”

Idea for Land

EBOE’s idea for the land was to construct a $60 million Vocational High School and physical education complex on two keys parcels of land located directly across from each other on this property. While in court, President Rafael Fajardo claimed, “The City of Elizabeth was fully aware of the Elizabeth Board of Education’s interest in locating a school at those two locations. The City of Elizabeth was actively involved with the SCC (School Construction Corporation) in site selection and it actively prevented the school district from locating at these viable locations from the beginning.” Superintendent, Pablo Munoz stated, “We will negotiate in good faith with all parties and we will use all of the available resources in our district to acquire this property for future generations. The success of today gives us hope to celebrate.” Superintendent, Pablo Munoz referred here to the 90 day restraining order that was issued and the time it permitted for further negotiation with city officials.

Land Contamination

On April 10, 2006 SCC learned that if a school was built on the site, children’s health could have been endangered from cancer-causing petroleum byproducts. A study from the PMK Group, an environmental engineering firm, concluded the site was contaminated with benzene and petroleum. Many people think this is a bad place for a school. Pastor Burgos stated, “Many industries in the city are contaminated so it is usual. As a result, deduction in price is issued for the land.”

Mayor Chris Bollwage still wants to sell the land to Luis Rodriguez which makes me introduce you to a term called “Hand Washing”As a result, this significant problem is still in the courts. President Rafael Fajardo stated, “ No matter who joins us in this fight, we will continue this momentum, with the ultimate goal of acquiring this land.”

This will certify that the above work is completely original.

Jonathan Yakubov

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