Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday toured NJIT’s Central King Building, a former high school that -- thanks to state funding -- has been renovated into a state-of-the-art science center where professors and students strive to answer life’s most perplexing scientific questions.
Christie toured four labs in the Central King Building. He listened attentively as NJIT students and professors explained their biological research. Afterward, he said he was delighted to see how state funds have transformed a vacant shell of an old high school into a thriving scientific hub that is training the next generation of engineers and scientists, mathematicians and technologists.
“Students will be able to compete globally because of the education they receive in this building and on this campus,” said Christie. “And the future of our state requires that we invest in that. That’s why I’ve done what I’ve done with this investment.”
The Central King Building is a major STEM hub -- a scientific center with smart classrooms and high-tech labs and space for tutoring and mentoring students, said Christie. The building will help keep the best and brightest students in the state at NJIT, “where they get as good an education as they do at any other university in the world,” he said.
It had been 25 years since the state invested in capital funds for higher education in New Jersey, added Christie. But that changed in 2013 when voters passed the Building Our Future Bond Act, which allowed for $1.1 billion in funds to flow to the state’s colleges and universities. And the largest single investment from that bond -- $86.3 million -- went to renovate the Central King Building.
Originally constructed in 1911, the building was home to Central High School, which NJIT bought from the City of Newark in 2011. The building is still undergoing renovation; The Center for Innovation and Discovery will be located on the lower floors of the building, as will the New Jersey Innovation Institute, which partners with industry on research and development.
Christie said the state must fill an estimated 270,000 STEM-related jobs by 2018. And NJIT, which historically educates more than a quarter of the state’s engineers, will help supply those STEM employees. And those employees will in turn boost the state’s economy. He also praised NJIT President Joel Bloom for his “outstanding leadership.”
“I had no hesitation in supporting this capital investment at NJIT because I knew Joel Bloom and the Board of Trustees would use the money to focus on student and faculty development,” he said. “Working together we will help the students develop into leaders in STEM fields.”
In opening remarks, Bloom thanked the governor for his support and for his commitment to higher education, especially to NJIT.
“You had the vision during the restructuring of higher education to have NJIT continue as New Jersey’s public polytechnic university—a driver of much of the state’s workforce,” said Bloom. “We have grown our enrollment, our research and increased our faculty while continuing our commitment to supply New Jersey’s science and technology workforce. We’re also growing the economy through our Enterprise Development Center, a business incubator that houses 95 companies with 800 employees. Recently, our annual economic impact on the state’s economy has been calculated at $1.7 billion.”
Anthony R. Slimowicz, an executive vice president for Crum & Forster who is an NJIT trustee, welcomed the governor and detailed the myriad ways that NJIT has benefited from the Central King Building. Since the building opened, he said, undergraduate biological research has increased by tenfold.
With its first-rate labs, the building has helped NJIT to attract six new prominent biology professors, who are using the labs to make major breakthroughs in scientific research. NJIT has 350 biology majors, about 80 percent of whom graduate and work in the healthcare fields. And those graduates, Slimowicz said, become the doctors and dentists, the physical therapists and physician assistants who, in the end, “provide care for the people of New Jersey.”
By Robert Florida