News Details

County to Construct New Bankbridge Child Development Center On College Grounds The County has secured over $6.8 million in state funding to build school for multiply disabled students with a focus on Autism

(Turnersville, NJ) - Gloucester County Freeholder Director Stephen M. Sweeney and Freeholder Joseph A. Brigandi Jr., unveiled the county's plans today to construct a 46,200 square foot state-of-the-art school for 140 multiply disabled students with a focus on Autism. The facility will be located on the grounds of Gloucester County College in Sewell.

"The Freeholder Board decided at the beginning of the year to build a school for children with autism and now we are at the point were we can see what the future will hold," said Freeholder Director Stephen M. Sweeney. "Today is the beginning of a dream come true for our children with Autism spectrum disorder and their families that will result in a beautiful, unique and functional school," he said.

"This new school for 140 students with multiple disabilities and autism spectrum disorder will complete the circle of special education opportunities we have created for all of our children with special needs. The county has had great success with our Bankbridge Elementary and Bankbridge Regional Schools, we have experience in making these programs work for the children, their families and the taxpayers," said Director Sweeney.

Sweeney said, "Anyone can see from the building we are standing in right now that it was never intended to handle what is considered the second most common developmental disability in the United States." Sweeney said, "Our children and their families deserve better and we are going to make that happen." Freeholder Director Sweeney said that according to the U.S. Department of Education, Autism has increased ten-fold in only seven years. In 1992-93, the U. S. Department of Education reported 12,222 children with autism; in 2003-04, they reported 118,602. The Center for Disease Control now publicizes the prevalence rate as 1 in 166.

Autism, which effects thought, perception, and attention is not just one disorder with a well-defined set of symptoms; but a broad spectrum of disorders that ranges from mild to severe. It is generally diagnosed by the age of 2 or 3.

The new facility will be built utilizing $6,813,127 grant from the state and the remaining amount of $7.1 million will be financed by a bond from the Gloucester County Improvement Authority.

The Freeholders noted that based on the NJ DOE Private Schools for the Disabled Revised Tentative Tuition Rates 2004-2005, it currently costs taxpayers at least $50,000 for tuition and transportation a year to educate one autistic child out of their district. Gloucester County can educate these children for half that amount, while keeping them close to their homes. It is anticipated that the new Bankbridge Development Center will ultimately save county taxpayers $1 million per year.

Freeholder Director Sweeney said that the Freeholders have decided to add an additional section to the school and house the Special Child Health program at the new Bankbridge Development Center. This will help fulfill the services children and families need at the Center.

Special Child Health Services coordinates and monitors the services needed by any physically, mentally, or potentially handicapped child from birth to age 21. Families are informed as to programs available to them, including Early Intervention--a program for infants and toddlers who are showing signs of developmental delay. Case management and service coordination are offered at no cost to families.

Freeholder Joseph A. Brigandi, Jr., liaison to Education for the county, said, "Our Gloucester County Special Services School District (GCSSSD) has been ranked first in the state for having the lowest cost per pupil for special services districts by the New Jersey Department of Education. We have a proven track record of that our shared services in education is successful to both the students and the taxpayers."

Brigandi noted that GCSSSD and GCIT have had a shared services agreement since 2001. By sharing a Superintendent and administrations between the two districts the GCIT and GCSSSD save over $700,000 in salaries and benefit a year on administration alone. "The new Bankbridge Development Center will operate under the same administration and we are confident they will be able to create better efficiency and opportunity with this new facility," said Freeholder Brigandi.

"It is our hope that the new Bankbridge Development Center for our special children will also become a premier site- based clinic in affiliation with our County College for pre-education majors leading to employment opportunities in the field of special education," said Brigandi. "This new school will help tie all of our schools together."

The Freeholder explained that the administration of the Special School District will move from their Sewell location to the Annex Building that is expected to be completed on the campus of the GCIT next spring. This move, in addition with the construction of a new Bankbridge Development Center will complete the County's Education Campus of Gloucester County College, GCIT, and Special Services all located closely to interact and share resources. After GCSSSD have vacated the Holly Avenue, Sewell location, the Gloucester County Health Department, Adjuster's Office and Medical Examiner will move in. The current Child Development Center will not move until the new Bankbridge Development Center is complete.