Children used to wake up every weekday and walk to the Maple Avenue Elementary School in Newark’s South Ward for class, but soon, people of all ages could wake up inside the former educational building each morning.
Samer Hanini of the Downtown Newark-based Hanini Group confirmed to Jersey Digs that at the end of 2017, his organization acquired the 62,010 square foot structure. Although he was only able to release preliminary information about the company’s proposal for the building at this time, he said that they are planning to conduct a historical restoration and convert it into a residential development.
When completed, the development would include a mixture of one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, though the number of apartments that the school would include is not yet available. Parking would be provided for residents on the premises, according to Hanini, and public bus service to Downtown Newark, Newark Liberty International Airport, and Manhattan is available from the neighborhood.
In 2010, then First Lady Michelle Obama paid a visit to the school’s cafeteria and auditorium as part of the Let’s Move campaign since Maple Avenue offered a weekly farmers market for students and parents. At the time, there were 560 students in kindergarten through eighth grade enrolled in the school and 46 teachers, according to ProPublica. State records show that 81.1% of the students were considered to be “economically disadvantaged” and Dale Russakoff’s “The Prize” described the building as “falling to pieces – literally.” In her book, Russakoff stated that two days before the First Lady visited, “a massive brick lintel fell onto the front walkway” of the school.
Over the last several years, as more charter schools continued to open in New Jersey’s largest city, more public schools continued to close as part of the controversial ‘One Newark’ plan. Despite opposition by many parents and community members, one of the buildings shuttered by Newark Public Schools (NPS) was the Maple Avenue School. The following year, in partnership with NPS, the Newark Housing Authority (NHA) put Maple Avenue and 11 other former public schools across the city up for auction.
Keith Kinard, who was the Executive Director of the NHA at the time before being fired, wrote that “the availability of these properties represents an extraordinary opportunity for developers to capitalize on the strong momentum in the marketplace, while enabling Newark Public Schools to monetize surplus assets and redeploy proceeds back to the classroom.”
Other schools on the list included the long-shuttered State Street Public School and the recently-closed Warren Street Elementary School building. The latter school was briefly home to American History High School before educational operations in the building were ceased entirely. It is now set to be demolished as part of an agreement between Claremont Companies and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Meanwhile, a community meeting regarding the status of and plans for the Maple Avenue School was held by the Hanini Group earlier this month at the Canaan Baptist Church. Hanini told Jersey Digs an additional community meeting is planned at some point in the next few months since the proposal is expected to go before the Newark Central Planning Board in the near future.