In the planning stages since the 1990's, the Islamic Society of Central Jersey finally cut the ribbon earlier this month on a new school facility to educate over 500 students at the Noor-Ul-Iman School on Route 1.
Phase one of the privately funded expansion project began in 2009. The 36,000-square foot facility sits on 17 acres and houses 19 classrooms to serve the ISCJ's 500 full time students and 600 students who attend the weekend school. The new facility allows the students to move from trailers and the existing mosque into a building they can call their own.
"This started with the idea that we had a full time school that needed space, and our weekend school was bursting at the seams," said ISCJ Chair Atiya Aftab. "On so many levels this raises school pride by having our own structure and helps the students feel like they own something. From a logistical standpoint, the mosque was showing signs from the children going through it, so it was time to relieve that stress and give the kids an appropriate space. Consolidating the majority of students into the new school, from an administrative point of view, is a God send."
The opening of the facility brought U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, Assemblyman Christopher "Kip" Bateman and Assemblywoman Donna Simon, in addition to members of the South Brunswick Township Council.
"It was very nice for our community members who are not part of the ISCJ come out to show their support," said ISCJ member Azra Baig. "This building gives us bigger classroom size, it has more light to make the learning experience more pleasurable, not only for students but for teachers. It's exciting to have a new environment, and it definitely gives us more of a school identity, it's more homey and a better learning environment."
Future phases of the multi-million dollar project includes the expansion of the present mosque, additional parking spaces and exits, an income-generating commercial building and a burial preparation facility, according to the ISCJ. Phase two will include adding 14 classrooms and 15,000-square feet, while the third phase will include a gym, cafeteria, auditorium, usage space, additional classrooms, a lab and administrative offices, Aftab said.
"We're hoping to start phase two sooner than later and have that complete within two years," she added. "Phase three will probably be the most expensive because the construction is more costly, but we're hoping to continue generating revenue from our community and we're excited to continue the ongoing construction."
Founded by Muslim American students at Rutgers University in the 1970s, the ISCJ began as an Islamic center in the early 1980's. Since 1993, the full-time Islamic School Noor-Ul-Iman has seen several batches of students graduate and each one has gone on to a four-year college, including Rutgers University, The College of New Jersey, Bryn Mawr, New York University, Barnard College (Columbia University), University of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton University.
The ISCJ also offers free weekend medical clinics for the entire township as well as donating money to South Brunswick schools and organizations.
With a new chapter beginning for the students at Noor-Ul-Iman and the members of the ISCJ, the group is looking to the future while enjoying the end of a long process that was culminated with the opening of the new school.
"We're thrilled to be hitting our next milestone in the growth of the community we've been serving for 35 years," Aftab said. "We want to continue to serve our Muslim community, as well as greater South Brunswick and New Jersey. We are so proud to be a part of this wonderful community."
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