$60K per-month lease gets replacement school

School community, church celebrate newly approved agreement


It’s a deal that the East Brunswick school district and a South River Catholic church are calling a win-win situation.

The former Corpus Christi School, off Old Bridge Turnpike, will be converted into an East Brunswick elementary school, at least for 2008-09. The township Board of Education voted 7-0 last week to approve a two-year lease agreement to house the 394 students of East Brunswick’s Memorial School, which was damaged significantly in a July 10 fire.

The school board will pay $60,493 per month to lease the building and grounds, according to school Business Administrator Bernardo Giuliana, who said that initially the cost will be covered by the district’s insurance company. He expects insurance to pick up the tab at least for the coming school year, and possibly longer. It remains unclear whether Memorial will be able to reopen for the 2009-2010 school year, and the school district will have the option of ending its Corpus Christi lease early or extending it, if needed.

The lease agreement comes as a relief to those in East Brunswick who feared the students would have to be split up in classroom trailers at three different school sites, and also for the Corpus Christi Pastoral Council, which has been seeking to rent out its building since its school was closed in June 2007.

“We’re very, very pleased,” said Memorial School PTA President Jennifer Stetson. “In fact, the Memorial school family is very supportive of the solution the district has come up with. They listened to the needs of the students and responded very quickly and effectively.”

Moving the pre-kindergarten to fifthgrade students to trailers would have brought “added emotional discomfort” to students already upset about losing their building, Stetson said.

School officials were impressed with what they saw at the Corpus Christi School during visits made in recent weeks. Located on David Street, the parochial school was built in 1962 with classrooms that are larger than those at Memorial. Another bonus is that the school has a gymnasium and stage separate from its large cafeteria. Memorial, like most of East Brunswick’s schools, has a combined gym and cafeteria, known as the multipurpose room.

Patricia LaDuca, coordinator of community relations and programs for the East Brunswick school district, said the Corpus Christi building is “an excellent facility,” noting that its classrooms were built to house as many as 50 students each.

Stetson said she had yet to visit the building, but from pictures she has seen and from what she has been told, the school is “immaculate.”

“And it’s bigger than Memorial,” Stetson said.

For Frank DeMonico, chairman of the Corpus Christi Pastoral Council, the lease deal is also cause for celebration. DeMonico has spent the past year and a half trying to find educational organizations that might want to rent all or part of the building. He had talks with the Head Start program, which was interested in a portion of the building, but no deal came to fruition.

“We at Corpus Christi are very pleased because, two things: Number 1, we were able to help a sister community in a time of need, and Number 2, we derive a benefit in terms of the rental [money] we’re receiving,” DeMonico said.

The church is trying to pay off its debt to the Diocese of Metuchen, incurred to keep the Catholic school open for the 2006-07 school year, after the diocese first sought to close the school due to low finances and a declining student enrollment. Also, the church plans to use some of the rental revenue for capital projects at the parish that have been put off for years due to limited funding.

DeMonico said that when the Memorial fire was reported in the newspapers, he and his wife discussed contacting the school district, but it was not known yet if Memorial would be usable. Soon enough, he received a call from East Brunswick Superintendent of Schools Jo Ann Magistro, who inquired about the Corpus Christi building, and the two then discussed the opportunity.

“I really enjoyed dealing with Dr. Magistro, and putting together things. We gave her a walk-through, and then we did a second walk-through for the Board of Education,” DeMonico said, recalling the pleased reactions of school officials upon viewing the building.

“They said, ‘My God, what an improvement over what we had.’ They get a kitchen, a huge cafeteria, a very large gymnasium, and all the classrooms are very large. So, we have agreed to totally turn over the entire building to them, and vacate all the programs we ran there. They’ve acquired the building, the parking lot, the playground … It’s a win-win for both sides.”

As of last week, East Brunswick school employees were already in the building, getting it ready for the start of school on Sept. 3. LaDuca said the school is being cleaned and some rooms are being rearranged. The cleaning, she said, “is the kind that’s done to a school each summer to prepare it for the school year.” Teachers will also be working on their rooms in the remaining weeks before school starts.

“The teachers have to start from square one, doing what they have to do to prepare their rooms,” LaDuca said.

They are not alone in trying to ready their classrooms. The Memorial PTA and the community at large are working to help them replenish supplies lost due largely to water and smoke damage from the fire.

Known as “Mission Memorial,” the PTA drive involves soliciting donations and collecting books and other supplies for the school, even selling “Mission Memorial” T-shirts and magnets.

Stetson noted that many teachers had built up their own classroom libraries and teaching tools over the years at Memorial, and now must start rebuilding their collections. The school district will provide some essential items, but the PTA and other community members can help with things like playground equipment, library books and Smart Boards. Several local businesses and many residents have stepped up already, Stetson noted.

“The generosity of the community has been overwhelming,” she said. “It’s heartwarming for all of us to see how generous people have been.”

For information about the PTA’s drive, visit the Web site at http://www.ebnet.org/Memorial/index.htm and click on “Memorial PTA.”