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Officials unveil $86 million NJIT project to transform former high school

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A voter-approved bond for higher education construction took center stage today, when state officials unveiled an $86 million project to transform a former Newark high school into new facilities for the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Under the plan, the college will create a hub for the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — through the addition of new research, design and teaching space. The renovation and reconstruction project will modernize the 102-year-old, seven-story former Central High School, which NJIT acquired and started using in 2011.

The effort, which was highlighted in a ceremony today, is the largest of 176 capital projects to be funded by a $750 million bond placed on November's ballot and approved by voters. The infusion supports $1.3 billion in construction activity for colleges and universities here — approved in April by Gov. Chris Christie and the state secretary of higher education — with the balance coming from a series of other state funds.

NJIT President Joel Bloom

The referendum for higher education construction was the first since 1988.

The NJIT project will include a "Center for Innovation and Discovery" with hands-on laboratories, design and modeling studios and new classrooms, according to a news release. It also calls for a three-floor research complex for biological sciences; and a math-oriented teaching and advising facilities.

The Newark-based institution is funding the balance of the $120 million project, and already has performed façade work, replaced windows, and installed new sprinklers and utilities, spokeswoman Sheryl Weinstein said. NJIT plans to finish the project by 2016.

The plan aims to support expected growth in STEM-related fields: Christie's office said the state will need to fill 269,000 jobs in those areas by 2018. NJIT, meanwhile, expects enrollment to grow to more than 14,200 by 2020, a 50 percent increase from 2011.

In a prepared statement, state Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks said the project "is the epitome of smart design and forward-looking thinking. It is the perfect alignment of curriculum with workforce demands."

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