A rendering of a proposed $750 million cancer center in New Brunswick — Courtesy: New Brunswick Development Corp.
By Joshua Burd
The developer of a proposed $750 million cancer center in New Brunswick is set to make its case to the city’s board of education, seeking to acquire a school property that it says is the ideal location for the sweeping health care facility.
The New Brunswick Development Corp., or Devco, says the property on Somerset Street is “critical” to the planned 12-story, 510,000-square-foot cancer pavilion, as it sits directly across from both Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the existing Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. The site also provides the footprint needed to offer treatment, research and inpatient services under one roof, which is seen as increasingly important among the nation’s leading cancer centers.
The developer on Tuesday night is slated to make a presentation to the school board, with a proposal to build a new school about a mile away that would replace the existing Lincoln Annex School. RWJBarnabas Health would pay for the $55 million school as part of the cancer pavilion project.
“It is important that research and patient care happen in the same building,” said Christopher Paladino, Devco’s president. “It’s important that physicians and researchers see patients coming and going to know what their work is about, but it’s also important for patients and their families to see that there’s research going on in their building, giving people hope that they’ll be part of the next clinical trial or they’ll benefit from the next level of discovery.”
It remains to be seen if the school board takes action on Tuesday night, but Paladino said an approval would pave the way for Devco to seek entitlements before the city and break ground on the cancer center as soon as November. The complex would allow for the consolidation of key cancer services into a single location and provide for expanded diagnostic and treatment services, Devco said, plus expanded infusion, chemotherapy and radiation oncology services.
Along with the outpatient services, the project would also result in New Jersey’s only oncology inpatient hospital and the creation of a new oncology urgent care center to reduce costly ER visits for cancer patients, Paladino said. Additionally, the new cancer pavilion will house state-of-the-art lab space for 10 new research teams, each dedicated to the search for new scientific outcomes and critical cancer treatments.
Most importantly, with more than 50,000 new diagnosed cases of cancer in New Jersey each year, the facility will allow the Rutgers Cancer Institute to treat an additional 20,000 patients, Paladino said. Upon completion, it would be the only freestanding National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in New Jersey.
“You don’t have to go to New York or Philadelphia to get this type of care and we want to be able to serve more people from New Jersey and from the region,” Paladino said. “There’s enough stress for patients and families, so we’re creating this for them to have world-class treatment close to home.”
The proposal, which Devco is spearheading on behalf of RWJBarnabas and Rutgers, has faced backlash in recent weeks over its timeline for building the new school. A groundbreaking for the school is unlikely to come before spring 2021, pending local and state approvals, and critics have called on the project team to build and open the new building before razing the existing district facility.
But Paladino said time is of the essence: With the Rutgers Cancer Institute up for reaccreditation in 2023, the new pavilion will go a long way toward securing the designation and the research dollars that come along with it. He also noted that the Lincoln Annex School would be temporarily relocated to the city’s Pathways to Technology Early College High School campus on Van Dyke Avenue, a facility that has housed students in the past while other schools were under construction.
Ultimately, he said students, families and faculty would gain a modern, $55 million school with an additional 30,000 square feet, expanded parking and a playground they do not currently have on Somerset Street. He also noted that the site, which is within an emerging redevelopment area, was the only suitable location that checked those boxes and is closer to a majority of the students who currently attend Lincoln Annex.
“I’m confident that when all the facts are put in front of the board and parents, they’ll look at this as an extraordinary opportunity to grow the educational opportunities in the city,” Paladino said.
For its part, the new cancer pavilion would connect to the existing hospital and cancer center, via covered skywalks, allowing for the seamless transfer of patients, materials and equipment between the facilities. It would also offer dedicated surgical and procedure rooms among its new features, along with the on-site research facilities that would be important to the operation.
“This is the trend throughout the country,” Paladino said, noting that the expansion would generate roughly 1,000 construction jobs and an estimated 500 to 600 permanent jobs.