Jersey City group demands clean water in schools by end of year, but city sets late 2022 deadline

Jersey City officials are ignoring a call to get it done faster, saying the entire city school system will have clean drinking water by the end of 2022.

State-wide activist and advocacy group New Jersey Together is demanding that the remediation project to de-lead schools’ drinking water must be completed by the end of 2021. The group, represented locally by the Jersey City Together branch, says the city has federal funds available, citing pandemic aid granted in the past year.

“Jersey City Together has overcome hurdles and pushed parties to make this vital project all the faster,” said Jim Nelson, a leader of the Jersey City Together Education Team and participant in the NJ Future Lead-Free Drinking Water Task Force.

“Our kids don’t need a multi-year time frame, they need hydration. Our teachers don’t have to be water cup managers, they need schools with safe, flowing water fountains in the hallway.”

Lead in public schools in Jersey City was discovered for drinking water in 2008, and 10 years later, the city, along with the Board of Education, began plans to rehabilitate the plumbing in the city’s more than 40 public schools.

In 2019, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop promised that JCMUA would help by January 2020 and provide clean drinking water in every school. The work consists of extending new copper pipes from the streets to the schools, completely replacing the water supply pipes and installing new non-contact water fountains. with bottle filling capacity.

The city has invested more than $15 million in this project and spent more than $200,000 on bottled water for the affected schools, according to school board chairman Mussab Ali and school board documents.

So far, work on Ferris High School, its annex, School 41 and School 15 has been completed. Phase 2, which includes schools 38, 39, 25 and 4, is expected to be completed soon, officials said. In total, there are five phases of remediation work.

Phase 3 will begin work on Public School #16, #27, #29, #34, #37, #40 and William L. Dickinson High School (DHS).

Jersey City spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione declined to discuss the reason for the project delays, but Ali blamed the contractor hired by the MUA, Guarini Plumbing.

Ali said Guarini, which has a number of local government contracts, does not have the resources to complete the project to meet the Jersey City Together deadline.

“It was just a capacity issue,” Ali said. “At that time, they just didn’t have the capacity to do all the schools in the summer. … There were staffing issues at Guarini while working with the MUA which caused a hiccup in executing the project.”

A leaflet distributed by New Jersey Together says: “Most schools in Jersey City do not have running drinking water. That should change by the end of 2021.”

In an interview with The Jersey Journal, Nelson pulled back the year-end deadline and said spring 2022 would be more realistic.

He said more delays will hurt the kids of Jersey City even more physically and mentally. “Any delay has a profound effect on[our children]’s behavior in the classroom, their learning potential and their dignity to have access to safe drinking water.”

With the completion of Phase 2, 19 schools will remain to be remediated, Ali said.

The JCMUA will hold a public meeting on July 22 that can be virtually attended by clicking this link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82954336876?pwd=T1A4N3VQVGhXOVY3SlZSdkpWNkZjQT09#success

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