New Jersey to rebuild decaying Trenton Central High School

Nightly News -- A crumbling Trenton, N.J., high school in the shadows of the state capital has been terminally ill for years.

Nightly News — A crumbling Trenton, N.J., high school in the shadows of the state capital has been terminally ill for years. Old pipes that leak in the walls, asbestos, mold and warped floors plague its 82-year-old bones. Repeated attempts to revive and rehabilitate the school have failed.

Now, in what one state official called “a complete departure” from past attempts to fix Trenton Central High School’s decrepit 82-year-old school building, a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie confirmed he now supports the plan to build a brand new building.

The apparent change of heart came after new leadership arrived at the state agency responsible for the school. Christie appointed his former chief counsel, Charles McKenna, to take over the School Development Authority (SDA) in December. After McKenna toured Trenton High he issued a statement promising, “there will be no more delays in getting the facility into the best possible condition.”

School officials recently invited NBC News to visit the massive main high school for New Jersey’s capital which houses some 1800 students and staff. Many claim the building is rotting inside and out. And what’s more, they say, it’s unhealthy, and unsafe.

During last week’s tour we were given a sharp warning: “Don’t drink the water!”

Later, librarian Nancy Lee showed us a plastic container filled with murky brown water collected from the school’s faucets: she uses it to water her plants. But for drinking? Never.

“We bring our own bottled water,” she explained.

In Bridget Ruggiano’s arts classroom, where she has taught for the past four years, the ceiling is discolored, and the plaster is crumbling. Ruggiano blames water leaks.

“The second day of school  it actually happened pretty bad,” she said. “I was sitting at my computer working on my lesson plans … It just started pouring.”

She showed us patterns in the ceiling stains, distinguishing between leaks from the bathroom above and elsewhere. Next, she showed us a storage closet connected to the class. The floor had been badly damaged by termites many years ago, Ruggiano said. But her bigger concern was the woodwork near a dark corner — and a tiny mouse hole.

“I can smell the dead mice in the wall,” Ruggiano said.

When she sweeps the floor, “I usually find at least one or two,” she said, adding that in past years she’s found even more.

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