Trenton Central High School
400 Chambers Street, Trenton, Mercer County
A Better High School Plan for Trenton
(609) 655-0692 x313
A monumental example of Georgian Revival Style applied to public architecture, 395,000 square foot Trenton Central High School (TCHS), opened in 1932, was acknowledged then at a total cost (building, land, and furnishings) of $3.3 million, as one of the largest and most expensive high schools in the country. It was constructed symmetrically upon 36 acres, with room for expansion. Its only addition has been a vocational wing, circa 1957. Celebrated alumni include composer/pianist George Antheil, tenor Richard Crooks, and baseball players George Case and Al Downing.
This landmark school retains most of its original architectural details and features, including interior artwork and mosaics, and exterior elements such as an intact clock tower, a colonnaded portico, and limestone detailing. The building is structurally sound, but has suffered from deferred maintenance and neglect. Its most pressing problem is a leaking roof and failure of internal plumbing and mechanical systems, problems that have led to the closure of several portions of the high school.
In July 2008, the Trenton Board of Education abandoned a rehabilitation plan, completed in 2000, in favor of a plan for demolition and new construction that would incorporate undefined “iconic elements” of the 1932 school. This decision was made in response to claims by the state’s newly organized Schools Development Authority (SDA) that available funds for THCS would not cover the planned rehabilitation, although a feasibility study for the project would not be completed until August 2009. Since the release of this study, a volunteer group of community advocates, TCHS alumni and parents, and professionals, known as “A Better High School Plan for Trenton,” has produced a modernization plan for TCHS. This group asserts that their proposal would cost several million dollars less than new construction, and would facilitate needed immediate repairs to the current building.
In December 2009 the SDA postponed a vote on a move toward new construction following testimony from “A Better High School Plan for Trenton.” However, in the wake of this year’s change in gubernatorial administrations, discussions have stalled. In March, the threat to TCHS gained strength when the city’s legislative delegation, fearing the loss of SDA funds, publicly announced their commitment to new construction and their desire to see the project moved forward as soon as possible.
Trenton Central High School is an example of historic school buildings throughout New Jersey threatened by the inaccurate assumption that historic buildings cannot accommodate a 21st century education. This misperception neglects to consider the unique opportunities that school modernization presents. For the community, school modernization is an opportunity to secure a significant source of local jobs, as statistics prove that rehabilitation creates more jobs than does new construction. For students, modernization presents a unique opportunity to learn sustainability and environmental responsibility firsthand by witnessing the “recycling” of a building they occupy daily. Further, historic school buildings provide students with the opportunity to learn in an environment that engages them in not only the required academics, but also local history and culture, thereby providing a well-rounded educational opportunity that newly constructed schools cannot hope to match.
PNJ urges the Schools Development Authority to overcome the misperception that school rehabilitation merely masks existing problems. In neighboring states and throughout the U.S., rehabilitated historic schools are integrating state-of-the-art educational amenities with significant architecture to provide students and their greater communities with unique, identifiable educational facilities of which all can be proud. In the case of THCS, the construction of a new school, of a routine design, using cheaper materials in a quick-fix methodology, would constitute uncontestable waste, not only of the materials and historical significance of a Trenton icon, but also, all funds, energy and time previously expended on efforts to rehabilitate this icon into the 21st-century facility that it could be.
We encourage the Schools Development Authority, the Trenton Board of Education, and Trenton’s elected officials to work with the community to pursue a plan that recognizes Trenton Central High School’s historic significance and the overall economic and sustainability benefits of to be reaped from modernization.
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