Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 34
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
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YWCA Princeton Welcomes Its Partner Status in Borough's Merwick Tract Redevelopment

Matthew Hersh

When Princeton HealthCare System announced in late 2005 that it would be relocating its University Medical Center at Princeton to a site in Plainsboro, and that Princeton University was the contract purchaser for its Merwick Rehab Center on Bayard Lane, YWCA Princeton and the Princeton Family YMCA knew they had to act fast.

Quick action was necessary because both organizations were undergoing strategic plan overhauls, but also because organization officials realized that they were caught right in the middle of what is likely to be a major piece of Princeton Borough redevelopment.

That situation is particularly true for the YWCA, whose Bramwell House on Bayard Lane, is virtually on top of the nine-acre Merwick property, and will likely play a key factor in any redevelopment of that area, which also includes the 18-acre Princeton University-owned Stanworth Apartments.

And while the Ys have been represented as the Planning Board and Borough examine potential new zoning for that area that would facilitate new development, they have been noticeably quiet throughout the process. That will not last for long, however, as YW officials have said that their organization's presence in Princeton will remain, and hopefully grow.

"Our roots are in Princeton, and we should be right here where we are," said YWCA Princeton CEO Judy Hutton in an interview. "To move out of this town would not be the right choice."

Ms. Hutton hopes to dispel any rumor that the YW will pack up for more vacant pastures and promises that any redevelopment that occurs around its property will happen out of partnership with both the hospital and the University. "We are so rich with what we've done, particularly in Princeton."

When Ms. Hutton first came on as CEO at the YW in early 2006, she was immersed in the ongoing strategic plan process, venturing into the community, participating in focus groups, and gauging public opinion. "It was really clear that people wanted us to focus on our mission more, provide more community programs, and wanted us to stay," she said.

The idea that the Merwick and Stanworth tracts were going to be redeveloped kicked the YW's strategic plan process into full gear. Prior to that, there were plenty of questions, but few answers on the future of the organization whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower woman. "I get the sense that the YW, before the strategic plan, didn't really know what they wanted to do. They knew they were way overdue for answers."

While programming ideals in the strategic plan include implementing all facets of the organization's mission, from a developmental perspective, Ms. Hutton said, the YWCA's future path has solidified over the past several months.

Ms. Hutton wasted no time in asserting that maximizing Bramwell House was a top priority: "That's our major identity."

And while there are people who see the YWCA and YMCA as a type of brother-sister organization, the two are completely separate from an administrative standpoint. Though from a proximity perspective, Ms. Hutton said, that could change.

"We need to stop competing with the YMCA and we need to sit down and make sure we are not duplicating programs.

"We both do so much and we're competing virtually under the same roofs and we really need to get our acts together. People walking in shouldn't have to question where to go," she said, adding that a consultant could be contracted to do a joint strategic plan for the two organizations. "We have our strategic plan, and they have their national plan, but we need to have one for both of us, locally."

In its strategic plan, the YW is looking to use its mission as an anchor toward program evaluation, education, how the mission translates to the surrounding community, and toward recruiting individuals from the community for its board, staff, and volunteers.

In the meantime, the Regional Planning Board of Princeton will continue its review of possible new zoning in that area this fall, and as it stands, there is a "50-50" chance that the YW's property will be part of that effort, Ms. Hutton said. As far as the organization's mission is concerned, however, zoning bears little impact. "Either way, it's going to be OK. The zoning is not a major impediment to what we need to do.

"There is a very strong tie here we are here in Princeton to stay."

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