SALEM — Outside of a building in Salem’s Fenwick Plaza is a sign for Homecare & Hospice Care of South Jersey. This plaza is also where many Salem Middle School students must go for class every day.
In September 2016, Salem Middle School was shut down after a ceiling collapsed at the school. Scrambling to find a place to teach students, the Salem School District relocated the students to temporary locations, one in the Finlaw Building and rooms on two floors of Fenwick Plaza. The district is currently paying $17,000 a month to rent these sites. The state’s Schools Development Authority (SDA), which handles school construction programs in the state, released this statement regarding the situation involving Salem Middle School:
“The SDA has worked closely with the Salem School District and DOE since the issue was discovered in order to identify the most appropriate project to address the situation. Earlier this year, the SDA engaged a site environmental consultant to perform necessary asbestos testing. The SDA will present a contract award recommendation to the Board of Directors at its June meeting for approval. A design consultant will be engaged through the approved contractor to deliver a report recommending an approach to fully remedy the condition. We anticipate work to continue on the damaged areas until September 2018 and will evaluate opportunities for partial re-occupancy sooner. The SDA is committed to addressing this project timely and effectively.”
New Jersey Assembly Deputy Speaker John Burzichelli has been one of the people involved with trying to get the ball rolling in regards to the school’s repairs.
“Whenever you are working in buildings that are older, repairs are not simple,” said Burzichelli. “When you are dealing with public contracts and contractors, things do not happen with a snap of the finger. In the case of an older building like Salem Middle, work had to be done to make sure that there were no asbestos issues and it would be handled. There are a lot of complications that happen when you are dealing with an older building.”
Burzichelli, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Salem) have been working closely with the School Development Authority, who is responsible for the repairs. Burzichelli also said that there had been some talk of trying to get an area of the school completed so some of the students can do back. However, no determination has been made if this can be done yet. It does remain an option.
The current classrooms at Fenwick Plaza and in the Finlaw Building, located on East Broadway in Salem, provide a different experience than at the original school. When touring the classrooms, many are small and divided by partitions with 20 to 30 students most of the small make-shift classrooms. Many of the rooms do not have access to air conditioning. To compensate, the rooms that do have working air conditioning vents crank up the air to try to reach all of the rooms that are not able to receive it. Trash bags hang from the ceiling below the vents to help regulate the airflow and to prevent the room from freezing. Also, many of the windows in the rooms do not open as a safety precaution. In one room, students and teachers joke that they have a waterfall. The waterfall happens when the ceiling leaks and so much that a constant stream of water falls in the corner of the room. They created a “Cafetorium,” a room that acts as their lunch room, gym and auditorium that has exposed fiberglass. Water fountains are not working, so the district has to give bottled water to children who request it. There have also been issues with bathrooms at the location.
Two sixth-grade students who have been attending classes at Fenwick Plaza are John and Jeremiah.
“It feels uncomfortable,” said John. “Everyday we have to walk and feel cramped in our classrooms. Our old building is where we could learn. We don’t have a lot of materials to work with like we used to. We can’t focus because we can hear the other classes voices.”
“When we were at the middle school, I could focus, but now it’s tough,” added Jeremiah. “In my class, there are 24 of us in this room. We are cramped up. If we move around, we feel like a whole bunch of roaches walking. It’s too much. I can’t think straight. When we are taking a test, it feels uncomfortable. It just doesn’t feel right.”
Another concern about the current situation is the security. Bonita Gullett is a security officer at the school.
“Before I had video cameras. I have no cameras now,” said Gullett. “I can’t buzz people into the building. I have to use my instincts about people. I know everybody in the community, and I know all of the parents. I’ve been doing this for so long.”
Salem Middle principal Pascale DeVilme has seen the conditions every day. DeVilme, along with vice principals Michele Beach and William Allen III have had to maintain normalcy as best as they can during a unique situation.
“It’s not easy,” said DeVilme. “It’s about teaching our children and being focused. Without a great staff and great administration, it couldn’t be possible. The children are resilient. If you don’t show any emotion about it, they are fine. As long as we remain positive and focus on educating our children, they will be okay.”
Salem School District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel has been trying to accelerate the process of repairs to original Salem Middle School.
“We have a ton of emotions,” said Michel. “We are disappointed. We are angry. We are upset. Everyone knows these are old buildings. It’s the feeling of being a stepchild and being educationally homeless as it relates to facilities. This is a temporary shelter and no one wants to be in a temporary shelter this long.”
According to the state Department of Education, Interim Executive County Superintendent of Schools Peggy Nicolosi and Executive County Business Official Doris Issacs have been the only department officials to see the current facilities.
“A mentor of mine says give people the benefit of the doubt,” said Michel. “If anyone saw what our kids and teachers see every day, maybe people would be compelled to move quicker. It is a process. At the end of the day, we need to get this moving on two levels. We need to get the kids back into the Salem Middle School and hold on to the promise for a new school for our kids.”
Salem County NAACP President Nelson Carney Jr. and other members of the organization’s executive team also had a chance to tour the facilities.
“It was very disturbing to see how the kids were jammed into the classrooms,” said Carney Jr. “It wasn’t a very good learning environment, especially when it was around the time of year to take the state tests. The safety of the children was important. It was very disturbing for us and we wanted the public to know what was going on with their tax dollars.”
The South Jersey Times obtained a letter the Salem County NAACP will be sending out to politicians in regards to the situation in Salem. In the letter, the organization states that “the current location of the students is deplorable, i.e. class size, privacy, safety, and the overall lack of a traditional learning school atmosphere.”
“Salem is mostly African American,” added Carney Jr. “We feel that our children are getting left behind because Salem is a poor town. People say they don’t know about what is going on there. They should find out. We need their help to tell the politicians that this is something they can not accept.”
Chris Franklin can be reached at
A man was wounded during a shooting in the French Quarter late Saturday night (May 27) near the intersection of St. Louis and Chartres streets, according to the New Orleans Police Department. A witness said the man was shot by a security guard during a scuffle outside the Louisiana Supreme Court on St. Louis Street. Dylan Coggins, who works as a food runner at the Original Pierre Maspero’s near the shooting scene, said he was walking by the courthouse when he saw a security guard struggling to arrest a man who “looked belligerent.” Somehow, Coggins said, the man wrestled the security guard to the ground and lay on top of him, at which point the guard shot the man. Coggins said he heard just one shot.
“After that, I just bolted,” he said. “I’m still a little shaken up. Not the first shots I’ve ever heard, but definitely close.”
By midnight, NOPD officers assisted by mounted units and Louisiana State Police deputies were investigating the scene outside the courthouse. Officers blocked St. Louis Street from Chartres to Royal streets with crime tape. Several onlookers watched the scene as police investigated. Among them were Gary Walker and Max Brown, a couple visiting from England. They had just arrived to their hotel across from the shooting scene when they saw a swarm of police activity.
“I’ve never been this close to a situation where there’s been a shooting,” Brown said. “To have something kick off here instead of Bourbon Street, that’s something of an alarm, isn’t it?”
Police had not indicated the condition of the victim as of 12:30 a.m. Sunday. No additional information was immediately available in an alert issued by police around 11:30 p.m.
Stay with Nola.com | The Times-Picayune for updates to this story.
The intersection of St. Louis and Royal streets in the French Quarter.Google Maps
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Two 16-year-olds were arrested, and one was shot, after an alleged robbery at a bus stop on Detroit s west side spilled over into a CVS store and a shootout with police early Thursday morning. Detroit police received a 911 call at 4:58 a.m. The caller said that a robbery had just taken place at a bus stop near McNichols and Wyoming, said Michael Woody, director of media relations for the Detroit Police Department. Some five or six males were reported to be involved, and reported to be armed. At least a few of the suspects were spotted running into a nearby CVS. A security guard and a clerk had been held at gunpoint toward the front of the store, Woody said, but officers arrived by 5 a.m. That CVS, a 24-hour store, is on the 10000 block of McNichols, just west of Wyoming. Officers quickly arrested one suspect and recovered a weapon in the middle of the store, Woody said.
As officers moved toward the back of the store, a second unit covered the back door in case suspects tried to flee, Woody said. That s exactly what happened, but when the suspect went out the door and saw officers, he allegedly fired shots. Officers fired back and struck the suspect. How many times he was hit was not immediately known, nor was his condition. He was taken to a local hospital as was undergoing surgery Thursday morning, according to authorities. When officers made the arrest, they recovered a weapon from the suspect and shell casings from the gun, Woody said. Police believe that three to four more males who took part in some aspect of the incident are still on the loose.
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