To the Editor:
I am writing on behalf of the Arts Council of Princeton to respond to statements in the press that the Arts Council's proposed building plans are "massive" and inappropriate to their location. These assertions are based on a misunderstanding of what we propose.
The size issue is really two issues: visual bulk, and impact on the neighbors of the level of usage which will result.
As to visual bulk: while the square footage of our building will almost double, the footprint will only be 19 percent larger than the present footprint, and the roofline of the additional wing will be no higher than the roofline of the present structure. In fact, most of the additional square footage will not be visible because it will be below grade. This is the result of our decision, in response to criticism from members of the Witherspoon-Jackson Association, to do very expensive excavation so as to reduce the visible bulk of the building. The building will be no greater in appearance than nearby community structures, including the Witherspoon Presbyterian and First Baptist Churches and Dorothea's House. The addition will be on the sides farthest from the neighborhood, facing the cemetery and the central business district.
As to the resulting levels of usage and their impact, presently our space is strained to and beyond the limit, with every room used for multiple purposes. The additional space planned is meant to improve and enhance program quality and to meet legal mandates, not to accommodate significant increases in usage of the building. For example, Americans for Disabilities Act and Code compliance requirements account for an increase of about 3,400 square feet. Improvement of the present loft theater with dressing rooms, storage space, a projection room and an anteroom/lobby, with absolutely no increase provided in its 140-seat capacity, total about 1,150 square feet. Creation of spaces exclusively dedicated to our photography and ceramics programs, the equipment and materials for which suffer most from multiple uses, accounts for about 2,000 square feet. And 900 square feet represent modest expansion of office space to create humane work environments for staff who are now mostly squeezed two into a small room. In total, these uses account for almost 80 percent of the increase planned, but they should generate little additional traffic to the arts center on any given day.
Our plans for the enhanced facility assume an increase of less than 20 people per day attending regular classes and programs in our arts center, with their visits spread out over the morning, afternoon, and evening. While the loft theater may be used more evenings some months than is presently the case (since weekend evenings are already heavily booked, not much increased use is anticipated) it will not have more people at any given event than it already has.
If our building cannot grow, meeting ADA and code requirements will eat up a quarter to a third of our present facility, forcing a dramatic reduction in our programs and activities. Nevertheless, most critics of our proposal have insisted we either stay within the existing footprint, with a few conceding our right to add just enough space to make ADA and building code upgrades. I believe, as do our staff and board, that this is a recipe for failure in our mission to the community. Indeed, the effect of that position, if upheld by the Planning Board, would be to force our departure from the downtown. We believe we can make additions that enable us to serve our neighbors and the community much better, with minor inconvenience to our neighbors.