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Residents Petition to Stop Demoltion of 80 Harrison Homes

Jun 14, 2022
Washington Middle School Harrison NJ

Over seventeen years ago in April of 2005, former Harrison Councilman Anselmo Millan (Councilman Millan) led a coalition of residents by collecting 900 signatures of Harrison residents opposed to the State of New Jersey’s plan to demolish 80 homes and commercial properties in Harrison to expand the then Harrison High School (now Washington Middle School) and Lincoln School.

Present Washington Middle School formerly Harrison High School

Before Councilman Millan got involved the State Agency that was in charge of the project, the Schools Construction Corporation (SCC), seemed destined to do what it wanted.  It had already razed resident homes in neighboring Newark NJ to fulfill a requirement set by the New Jersey Supreme Court that each child in New Jersey receives a “thorough and efficient” education, as required by the New Jersey Constitution.  One of the requirements was to provide new and improved school buildings for students.

As a state-designated Abbott District, the Town of Harrison qualified for full state funding for the construction of new schools.  Harrison continues today as an Abbott District with the same benefit.

Councilman Millan Does the Math

In 2005, Councilman Millan, using his former accounting skills, contended that the razing of the 80 proposed buildings by SCC for the new construction would cost Harrison some $700,000 a year in lost tax dollars.  That would cause a property tax increase for other residents not to mention the emotional toll of losing your home and/or apartment in a nice neighborhood.

Councilman Millan at a Mayor & Council meeting sought the signature of the Mayor and Council members to his petition that urged the SCC to explore other sites to expand schools rather than demolish 80 homes and businesses in Harrison surrounding the former Harrison High School (now Washington Middle School) between Harrison Avenue and Hamilton Street along North 5th Street and the Lincoln Elementary School between William St and Cross Street also bordering North 5th Street.

Former Councilman Anselmo Millan in front of 221 Bergen Street Building


Displacement of A Lot of People

"This is a huge undertaking," Millan said of the expansion plans. "It's going to displace a lot of people, and it's going to have a major impact on our community."

The residents' opposition came as the SCC prepared to vote on the expansion proposal. SCC officials said that the expansion is necessary to accommodate a growing student population in Harrison.

"We understand the concerns of the residents," then SCC spokesman Dan Levi said at the time "But at the end of the day, we have to do what's best for the students." In other words, residents were supposed to step aside for the benefit of the students. 

Millan's Math & Instincts Correct

Councilman Millan’s instincts were correct that razing 80 homes and businesses did not make any sense.  Councilman Millan’s efforts in gathering 900 signatures and going to Trenton to stop SCC from demolishing homes and businesses of residents was successful and SCC backed off its plan.

Two years later an independent audit of SCC turned up corruption in the awarding of jobs at the SCC and other mismanagement of entrusted funds including Contractors who were charging more to the SCC than other school building projects throughout the State.

Under pressure to control the wasteful spending, Governor Jon Corzine shut down the SCC by executive order and founded the New Jersey Schools Development Authority to undertake the mission outlined in the New Jersey Supreme Court Abbott Decision. The New Jersey Schools Development Authority would also have its share of mismanagement.

Dewey Street in Newark

The City of Newark did not have Councilman Anselmo Millan to put together a coalition of residents to fight back against the SCC.  What happened in Newark NJ on Dewey Street was what could have happened in Harrison if Councilman Anselmo Millan had not stepped up to lead the coalition of residents against the SCC plans. 

In Newark, the SCC forced the sale of homes which lead to abandoned homes when SCC mismanagement caused its funds to run out.  Because of the abandoned homes, the neighborhood became dilapidated.  Homeowners were displaced and those that remained demoralized by a changing neighborhood.  The City of Newark lost property tax revenue because of the loss of homes sitting empty and/or demolished.

Your Opinion

What do you think of the state's 2005 proposal to expand schools in Harrison, NJ? Do you think the residents' concerns were valid? What do you think of Anselmo Millan’s leadership? Let us know in our Discussion Board.