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Vol. LXII, No. 51
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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Regional Planning Board Reviews Seminary Plan for Speer Demolition

Dilshanie Perera

The Regional Planning Board heard Princeton Theological Seminary’s concept review last Thursday for the demolition of Speer Library and the construction of a new library in its place. No action was taken, but many members of the Board seemed to feel that while demolition would be appropriate, the Borough’s Historic Preservation Review Committee (HPRC) should take another look at the Seminary’s proposal.

Opposition to the demolition stems from the fact that Speer Library, built in 1956, is unique in its Art Deco Collegiate Gothic architectural style and is located in the historic Mercer Hill district of Princeton.

A “demolition ordinance,” which is part of the Borough’s Municipal Land Use Ordinance does not allow for demolition unless the building conforms to certain standards or if the preservation of the building is considered particularly problematic for the applicant. No demolitions have been permitted in the Mercer Hill area since 1985.

The argument presented by members of Princeton Theological Seminary for the demolition of Speer hinges on use of the space, and the fact that the current building limits the ease of using the library’s collection.

The James Lennox Librarian at the Seminary Stephen Crocco noted that Speer lacks natural light and is running out of room for books. The cost of renovation would be about the same as the demolition and building of a new, purposefully designed structure, he said.

Planning Board member Jacqueline Tillman noted that if buildings “have outlived their usefulness, now is the time to correct something that should have been done in the past,” but recommended sending the case back to HPRC for further review.

Expressing similar sentiments, board member Marvin Reed said that the presentations made during the evening were “enough to convince me that the Seminary needs a new library and a new building” but he remained unsure whether that it would be an “undue hardship” if the Speer Library building were preserved.

Bernie Miller, also a member of the Planning Board as well as the acting mayor for Princeton Township, agreed that he would like to see specifics sent to the board from HPRC, while Vicky Bergman of the Planning Board thought that an adequate case had been made in favor of the demolition.

“Our institutions are integral to the fabric of this community, and will be here after we are gone,” Ms. Bergman said, adding that the Seminary “deserves a building that matches the quality of its collection.”

Wanda Gunning of the Planning Board noted that “every building in Princeton has someone who loves it,” and also that “demolition is not something that starts here.” She, too, suggested that HPRC take another look at the proposal.

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