Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 33
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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Community Center, Fire Department Hub? Board Must Decide

Ellen Gilbert

Two competing visions for the future use of the Valley Road building were presented to the Board of Education last week.

The Valley Road School-Adaptive Reuse Committee (VRS-ARC), a grassroots effort “to prevent the demolition of the Valley Road School Building in the belief that it has the potential to become a valuable resource for the Princeton community,” made its case for restoring and converting the building into “a viable community center,” housing non-profits, civic organizations, and arts and cultural groups.

The alternative choice is based on a recently completed “Analysis of Fire Department Operations.” It would entail razing the older part of the building now occupied by Corner House counseling center, TV30, and the Affordable Housing Department, and creating a centralized hub for fire and rescue services. If this plan flies, the Affordable Housing office would move across the street to the Township’s municipal building; the fates of Corner House and TV30 are less clear.

“We are hoping for the outcome that is best for the Princeton community and one that keeps our staff healthy and able to serve through our leadership, prevention, and treatment programs,” said Corner House Executive Director Gary DeBlasio.

That “outcome” will be announced at the Board’s August 30 meeting, at 8 p.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School.

“I do not have a sense of which way the decision will go,” said School Superintendent Judy Wilson. “There’s much deliberation and some information gaps that still need to be addressed.”

In response to criticisms pointing out that the Princetons have not yet put the question of a new fire and rescue facility to either of its constituencies or governing bodies, Township Mayor Chad Goerner acknowledged that “we certainly need to have a public discussion before we engage in any kind of bonding. But the way we look at it — as does the Borough — is that we do need to upgrade the Fire Department, so that will cost us whether that site is used or not.” Rescue Squad income, he added, would be sufficient to cover that unit’s expenses.

“They’ve been working extremely hard,” said Mr. Goerner of the detailed plans and budgets presented by VRC-ARC. “I think it’s going to be a difficult decision for the School Board. It’s really in their hands.”

The Valley Road building is owned by the school district, which occupies offices on the first floor facing Valley Road. The rest of the building has fallen into serious disrepair in recent years, and the district is eager to have a new entity assume responsibility for it.

The Board’s Facilities Committee has been and continues to be a key player in decisions regarding the use of the Valley Road Building. Committee members include Chairperson Dorothy Bedford, Afsheen Shamsi, Molly Chrein, and Andrea Spalla. The Board has expressed interest in sharing the building with an office or agency that share its educational concerns.

Letters concerning this issue can be found on page 7 in this week's issue of Town Topics.

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