New Jersey officials are reconsidering how to use $110 million budgeted for refurbishing Camden High School.
Earlier this month, the Schools Development Authority, the state agency charged with building schools in urban areas, delayed plans to spend an initial $21 million to repair the high school's facade, which in recent years has crumbled so badly it has been held up by scaffolding.
Authority officials say they are committed to investing in the 90-year-old school, but they have raised questions about how best to mesh efficient construction with preserving the building.
School officials and longtime Camden residents have opposed the idea of demolishing the building, known as the "castle on the hill" because its spires reach into the sky above the main entrance.
Yet building a new school could prove cheaper than refurbishing the old one.
"If you asked me on a personal level if I'd like to see the facade renovated and the rest of the building modernized, I would love that," said Jose Delgado, school board member. "But that may not be the option I have because the money is finite and it's somebody else's money."
Despite its academically troubled and chronically violent reputation, the 1,500-student school has a strong network of supporters and alumni.
"The community and the board want Camden High's castle on the hill to remain the castle on the hill, at least the facade," said Bart Leff, a spokesman for the district.
But the decision might not rest with the community. Authority and school officials expect to meet in January to decide how best to use the state money set aside for the school.
"Ultimately, our fiduciary obligation is to build schools which are safe, efficient and affordable," authority chairman Kris Kolluri said. "We intend to do just that within the context of balancing the community needs with the needs of the students."
Kolluri, who took over the authority at the start of December, hopes to spend a new infusion of cash wisely after an initial school-building program was mired in waste.
The agency, formerly the Schools Construction Corp., was roundly criticized for lax management as it spent $6 billion for schools in 31 mostly poor, urban districts.
Gov. Corzine recently approved $2.9 billion more in borrowing for those areas. State officials have made a point that they expect less-lavish plans this time.
"Our goal is to spend that money wisely and provide a 21st-century school," Kolluri said.