Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 32
 
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
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Valley Road School Building a Problem For Some, a Community Space for Others

Dilshanie Perera

While the fate of the Valley Road School building will not be decided at the August 31 meeting of the Princeton Regional School Board, questions remain for the current tenants, preservationists, and the administrators of the site.

The only action that may be taken at the meeting, according to Business Administrator and Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy, is that the School Board could possibly vote on a resolution that would determine the extent to which the Borough and Township governments would be involved in decision-making and providing input regarding the property. Ms. Kennedy was unsure, however, “whether that will make it to the August agenda.”

No decisions will be made in the short term, Ms. Kennedy said, noting that the occupants of the building, which include Corner House, Princeton Community Television (TV30), and Princeton Young Achievers, have to vacate by June 2011. “That has already been decided and is understood,” she said.

School Board President Rebecca Cox corroborated, saying that “they’ve all known for quite some time, years now.”

“What’s really interesting about public school districts is that you are expected to provide as much as you can for non-profits that help the local community,” Ms. Cox said, emphasizing that the Valley Road case is “really unfortunate, and I’m sorry about it.”

Ms. Cox reported that the School Board would not sell the building, and since the estimated cost of renovating the structure totals $14 million, “we decided against the renovation.” A tear-down of the old portion of the Valley Road building facing Witherspoon Street and rebuilding a new structure is estimated at $8 million, she said.

“We’re trying to figure out the best use of the building and the property it is on,” Ms. Cox observed, adding that the use must be consistent with the general objectives of the school district, in that the property must serve an educational purpose of some sort and be beneficial to local students.

Station Manager George McCollough, who runs the non-profit cable-access television station, said that the organization had not received a formal deadline for vacating the premises, but did note that last year the tenants of the building signed a lease that requires the landlord, namely, the School Board, to give tenants 60 days notice prior to asking them to leave.

Mr. McCollough and others are part of a group called the Valley Road School - Adaptive Reuse Committee (VRS-ARC), which was founded two years ago to address the potential for preserving the building while renovating the interior and heating and plumbing systems.

Mr. McCollough and Dan Preston, who both belong to the group, agreed that it would be possible for the building to be rehabilitated without tearing it down, while minimizing any impact on the taxpayer. “We think we can do the whole thing without any tax dollars being used,” Mr. McCollough said, explaining that the non-profits housed in the building could apply for historic trust grants, as well as low-interest loans, in order to pay for the renovation, and subsequently could open up the improved space to more non-profit or private community-based tenants for a small rent contribution to sustain building operations.

Ms. Cox said that while the school board has been in talks with the non-profit occupants and the members of VRS-ARC, they are required by state law to prove an “ongoing source of revenue” that would maintain the structure. In the interim, they are “concerned about the health of the building,” she said.

“This building belongs to the community … Its fate should be determined by the community collectively,” Mr. Preston suggested.

Preserving the building “as a community resource” is a major goal for VRS-ARC, noted Ridge Applegate, who said that the value of the building lies in its ability to house non-profit organizations and service entities. “It is perfect as a community center.”

With “virtually no commercial space available in Princeton that we can rent for the TV station,” Mr. Applegate said that LEEDS-certified architects, engineers, and historic preservationists that VRS-ARC has worked with have deemed the proposed renovation feasible and extended their support.

A video elaborating on the reasons for the preservation of the Valley Road School Building, and providing potential solutions for reusing the space can be found at www.savevalleyroadschool.org/video.html. It was made in collaboration with members of VRS-ARC and Princeton Community Television, and was produced by Judith Robinson and Anna Savoia.

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