RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, in partnership with the New Brunswick Development Corp., broke ground Thursday on the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, a 12-story, 510,000-square-foot facility in New Brunswick that will be the state’s first freestanding cancer hospital. — Photo by Russ DeSantis Photography and Video LLC/Courtesy: RWJBarnabas
By Joshua Burd
Construction is underway on what will be the latest addition to the New Brunswick skyline — a 12-story, 510,000-square-foot cancer hospital operated by two of the city’s anchor institutions.
On Thursday, leaders of RWJBarnabas Health and the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey welcomed a large crowd to break ground on the $750 million project. Built in partnership with the New Brunswick Development Corp., the new building on Somerset Street will rise across from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the existing cancer institute, serving as a hub for treatment, patient services and research in a first-of-its-kind facility in New Jersey.
The hospital is slated to open in 2024 as the Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center, a nod to the philanthropic efforts of one of the state’s prominent real estate families.
“There is nothing that feels better or more gratifying than helping others in need,” said Jack Morris, CEO of Edgewood Properties and chair of the RWJBarnabas board of trustees. “Cancer touches the lives of everyone — and we believe that people should not have to travel to New York or Pennsylvania to get great cancer care. It has been our vision, our hope and our dream to have the top cancer center in the nation right here in New Brunswick.
“Sheryl and I are so proud that we can play a role in helping to make this dream a reality.”
According to RWJBarnabas, the new pavilion will house inpatient, outpatient and ancillary services, as well as state-of-the-art laboratories where research faculty can provide hands-on educational opportunities for students and enable physician-scientists to translate scientific findings directly to patients. The facility will also enable ease of access for imaging and other diagnostic tests, treatment and follow-up exams all in one space.
Speakers at Thursday’s ceremony also hailed the economic impact of such a project, in a city that has long since emerged as a magnet for health care and education.
“The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center represents incredible progress in our city’s growth and will further enhance the world-class fabric of the New Brunswick landscape,” New Brunswick Development Corp. President Christopher Paladino said. “Not only will it provide employment and educational opportunities to our immediate community, but this revolutionary structure also will represent the ‘best of the best’ and serve as a cancer destination for the Northeast.”
The hospital will occupy the former site of the Lincoln Annex School, sparking some backlash among parents and other community members, but construction is now underway on a new school that will serve as a replacement for the facility. RWJBarnabas is paying for the $55 million school, located about a mile away, as part of its cost for the cancer center project.
Thursday’s groundbreaking drew dignitaries including Gov. Phil Murphy, who underwent surgery last year to remove a tumor from his kidney, who said the center “will provide patients with the most sophisticated cancer treatment available with access to the latest technology and medicine New Jersey has to offer.” It will also complement the existing Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
As RWJBarnabas Health’s Barry H. Ostrowsky noted, the institute “already serves as a destination for advanced cancer treatments including clinical trials, stem cell transplantation, proton therapy and CAR T-cell therapy.”
“This trailblazing facility will help us further our mission in the delivery of outstanding comprehensive oncology care for our state and improving the health and well-being of our residents,” said Ostrowsky, CEO and president of RWJBarnabas Health. “Jack Morris has been the greatest champion of this project since its inception. The magnitude of this generosity propels Jack and Sheryl into the ranks of visionary philanthropists who have helped to change the course of health care in New Jersey.”
Thursday’s groundbreaking drew praise from a host of other stakeholders and public officials.
Gov. Phil Murphy:
“RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers are widely recognized as leaders in health care and life-sciences, and the addition of the Cancer Center represents a significant step forward in New Jersey’s fight against cancer. Through the development of this new cancer pavilion, these world-class entities will continue to be at the forefront of research, innovation, and cancer care, serving as a leader for our state and nation. This center will provide patients with the most sophisticated cancer treatment available with access to the latest technology and medicine New Jersey has to offer. I am grateful to RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers for their commitment and proud to support this effort that will further provide access to the latest treatments for cancer patients across New Jersey and beyond.”
New Brunswick Mayor James Cahill:
“The next stage of the war on cancer will be waged right here in New Brunswick. Cancer has touched each and every one of us in different ways. This new state-of-the-art cancer center arms us with the science, medicine and critical resources to fight back like never before and gives new hope to thousands of current cancer patients and to those who have yet to be diagnosed.”
Steven K. Libutti, Rutgers Cancer Institute director and senior vice president of oncology services at RWJBarnabas Health:
“The Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer Center will amplify our ability to more quickly translate groundbreaking discoveries from the laboratory directly to the patient in addition to providing numerous amenities critical to the cancer journey all in one footprint. Keeping the patient at the center of all we do is paramount to bringing exceptional cancer care to our patients. I am humbled by the passion and commitment of the Morris family and the many other donors who I know will join them. Their support will further propel us into the future of cancer discovery and care, and for that we are truly grateful.”
Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway:
“This new cancer center demonstrates a strong commitment to academic medicine in our state. With an emphasis on research, education, prevention, and patient care, this facility will give New Jersey cancer patients enhanced access to the latest treatments — fueled in part by scientific investigation conducted at Rutgers and by numerous other partners.”
Brian L. Strom, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences chancellor and Rutgers University executive vice president for health affairs:
“With the RWJBarnabas health system we are looking forward to a healthier future in which our citizens can receive all the care that they need without ever leaving the state of New Jersey. Now, in our tireless quest to improve the life and health of our citizens, New Jersey opens another front in the war against disease, focused on cancer.”
Ronald G. Rios, director of the Middlesex County board of commissioners:
“Not only does this new cancer center directly align with Middlesex County’s history of fostering and investing in innovation and collaboration, but we recognized from the onset the immense benefits and opportunities this facility will bring to our community — creating a pathway for residents to receive advanced cancer treatment, new job opportunities and career paths in multiple disciplines. This growth strategy is consistent with the county’s efforts around Destination 2040, a master economic roadmap to enhance the lives and businesses in our community.”