December 12, 2005.
Jersey City Reporter, NJ.
The students have to go all the way up to the fifth floor for lunch, and the classrooms are too small. And when buses line up in front of the school, it causes a traffic backup.
Those problems might affect any urban school, but they're worse if you are St. Joseph's School for the Blind in Jersey City.
The school, founded in 1891 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, has been in the same Baldwin Avenue building since 1927. It is the only school for the blind in New Jersey and one of the oldest in the country.
The school has a staff of 100 teachers and serves over 200 blind and visually impaired students. It operates as a secular institution.
The institution's goal is challenging - to educate and prepare youngsters with little or no sight to survive on their own. Some leave the school after the third grade to enroll in their respective school districts, while others stay until the age of 21 if they are more dependent. v
All students attend the school free of charge, with their tuition covered by the respective school district where they reside.
But an even more challenging goal is building a new school to fit the needs of a visually handicapped child in the 21st century.
New school soon.
The school will move as early as the spring of 2006 to a building double its size, at the three-acre site of the city's former Reservoir No. 2 on Summit Avenue. The land was donated by former mayor Gerald McCann in the early 1990s.
A portion of the land already hosts Concordia House, a residence for St. Joseph's students who live too far away to travel on a daily basis to the school. They can stay for up to 11 months per year, returning to their homes each weekend and during school holidays.
Last week, the school's chief administrator, Gerald Kitzhoffer and its director of development and public information (and alumni), Ed Lucas, sat down for an interview at the director's office where they discussed the $21.6 million project.
"This is our biggest challenge as a school ever," Kitzhoffer said, "but we see it as just part of doing our jobs - providing quality education and service to those who need it most."
A new facility.
Construction began on the new school in early 2004 and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2006. The $21.6 cost for the school is funded by a $15 million tax-free loan offered by the state with a 20-year mortgage attached.
The other $6.6 million is to be raised directly by the school, with $1.1 million already collected from corporate donors and through various events.
The new school will take up about 75,000 square feet of space, more than twice that of the current facility.
Kitzhoffer said the classrooms will also be larger, with their size an average of 1,000 square feet. Also, the school will be only two floors, with an emphasis upon allowing as much room for those who are blind or visually impaired to acclimate themselves.
At the current facility, there are cramped classrooms for art and computers. Music classes are taught in the same multi-purpose room where gym classes are taught. But then again, space is at a premium in the Baldwin Avenue building.
"Right now, we would have this interview in a separate conference room that we used to have," said Kitzhoffer. "Instead I had to put the conference table in my office because the conference room had to be converted into a classroom because we were running out of space."
Kitzhoffer said there will be a pool in the new facility, just as there is current one. And there will be parking for buses that will allow easier drop-off for students at the front entrance as well as the back entrance for those who use wheelchairs.
"Just the traffic alone produced when the buses lined up in front of the school right now makes it look like Newark Airport," said Kitzhoffer.
Seeing more than just a school.
Kitzhoffer, Lucas, and their co-workers have come to look at the new school as more than just a place of work.
"This is not so much about the building itself as what it offers to the children," said Kitzhoffer. He has worked at St. Joseph's since 1987 and was named the school's administrator last year after the untimely death of former administrator Herbert Miller. Kitzhoffer has been involved in the education of visually impaired students for about 30 years.
Lucas, who has been visually impaired since the age of 12, added, "This new school will be a showcase for parents and guardians to know that there's a school available for their children to receive help and care."
They don't know about us.
One of the things Kitzhoffer and Lucas pointed out was despite St. Joseph's' status as the only school of the blind in New Jersey, there are a number of parents and guardians who are not aware of the school or do not send their children to the school.
As far as leaving the old building, there will be some sorrow.
Lucas has resided at St. Joseph's for 53 years.
"I will miss this place dearly since I know every inch of it," he said, "but we will be going to a beautiful new school."
Students and staff will be relocated during a school break period after the construction is completed on the school.
The current school building will be given back to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace for their own purposes.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source URL: http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=15728289&BRD=1291&PAG=461&dept_id=523586&rfi=6.
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