Christie celebrates College Avenue redevelopment groundbreaking with Rutgers
With red shovels and scarlet pride, Gov. Chris Christie, Rutgers President Robert L. Barchi, New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill and New Brunswick Development Corporation President Christopher Paladino broke ground yesterday for the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative at Seminary Place.
Since coming into office, Christie said he has tried to make restructuring, strengthening and promoting the state’s higher education system a top priority.
In this year’s budget, the state has increased spending on higher education by $34 million, he said.
“After decades of politics getting in the way of desperately needed rethinking and restructuring of our higher education system, Republicans and Democrats work together in a bipartisan way to take higher education in New Jersey to the next level by completing the broadest and boldest restructuring of New Jersey’s higher education landscape in our history,” he said.
New Jersey voters approved a $750 million bond referendum last November, investing the money in expansions and upgrades for the state’s colleges and universities. The state has not made this type of investment in higher education in 25 years, Christie said.
“I’m proud that this administration and our partners in the legislature and, at the end, the voters in the state of New Jersey have decided that that is an investment that is not only worth doing, but necessary for us to move forward economically.”
The referendum made 176 construction projects possible at 46 New Jersey colleges and universities, he said. This allows for the expansion of classrooms, laboratories, residence halls and other facilities.
Rutgers received a total of nearly $360 million for 29 projects across its three campuses.
But this does not include funds allotted to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. With the merger, Rutgers should receive close to $600 million in capital money over the course of the next few years, Christie said.
“I think by the time we get done with this in the next two to three years, Rutgers is going to be [a] much bigger, bolder place than it was before because of the investment,” he said.
Seminary Place will be the future home of an $87 million academic building, which is receiving $55 million in grant funds from the state, he said. As a result of this investment, an estimated 1,200 construction jobs and 5,700 other jobs will be created.
The hill on Seminary Place certainly was not easy to obtain. Owned by the New Brunswick Theological Seminary for more than 200 years, the land had been negotiated over for more than 150 years, Paladino said.
When construction finishes in 2016 — the year of Rutgers’ 250th anniversary — the facility will serve as the first dedicated home for the School of Arts and Sciences, and will have modern lecture halls and classrooms that feature state-of-the-art technology, Christie said.
The building will also house departmental offices, including the School of Art and Sciences dean’s office.
Cahill said this would be the first academic building built on the College Avenue campus since Scott Hall and the Graduate School of Education in 1961.
Barchi said the addition of the 200,000 square foot state-of-the-art academic facility that will seat more than 2,500 students marks a major step forward for Rutgers, creating a new heart for the historic College Avenue campus.
“We pride ourselves with being one of the oldest universities in the nation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean having only the oldest buildings. We have to grow with the nation and with intellectual strength and development and with the times.”
A monumental stairway ascending in the mall’s center will link the lower quad’s academic buildings with the upper quad’s residence halls. The upper quad will house a new Honors College that will accommodate upwards of 500 students in a 24/7-living/learning environment with live-in faculty.
Barchi said the project became a reality because of three factors. He lauded Christie and New Jersey’s commitment to higher education.
He then said public-private partnerships were crucial for the University to undergo such a large-scale project. Last, Barchi said Rutgers’ vision for continuing excellence in higher education helped push forward the redevelopment initiative.
Cahill said the redevelopment is not only indicative of progress for the University, but for the city of New Brunswick as well.
“In a bold and dramatic way, Rutgers begins its biggest and most complex undertaking in our city’s history.”
Paladino emphasized the importance of a good relationship between DEVCO and Rutgers.
“Whenever I needed encouragement, I always remember the words Mayor Cahill told me when I first took this job: ‘Chris, a strong New Brunswick makes a stronger Rutgers, and a strong Rutgers makes a stronger New Brunswick.’”
New Jersey has more high school students leave the state for higher education than any other state in the country, Christie said. He emphasized that the state needs to provide greater opportunities for students so they do not go away from home.
“If they leave the state, they’re less likely to come back,” he said. “That type of brain drain is not something that is New Jersey’s long term interest, and just as importantly not in the best interest of the mothers and fathers who want them to come home and have their grandchildren in New Jersey.”
But many New Jersey colleges and universities lack the capacity to keep these students in the state — and Christie said this is part of the problem.
“[This is] because of our failure to invest in a way that would grow those universities over the last 25 years,” he said. “I’m proud to be here on the day that that ends.”
Christie said his administration would also continue to invest in Rutgers’ ongoing budget as well to try to make sure the state deals with tuition increases in a responsible manner.
“If I have another four years in office, Rutgers is going to do even better,” he said.
Protestors against fracking also made an appearance, chanting loudly for their cause as Christie took the podium.
“It’s good to see that all of New Jersey is here,” Christie said.