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(Photo by George Vogel)

LET THE LENDING BEGIN: A group of Princeton High School students performed a Chinese Lion Dance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Princeton Public Library in April. Many local dignitaries were on hand for the event, including, from left: Eric Greenfeldt, the library's assistant director; Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand; former Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed; and library donor Estelle Sands. The opening also included a day's worth of activities ranging from author readings to children's workshops.

Princeton: A Small Town Plays Big Roles

Candace Braun
Matthew Hersh

However different 2004 may have been from the years that preceded it, there remains one constant we are consistently reminded of: Princeton is changing.

And it's changing in its own special way, with residents and local legislators alike constantly working to sustain a progressive, forward-thinking community while simultaneously doing their utmost to keep Princeton's roots intact. In this sense, Princeton is very much a small town.

In another sense, Princeton is quickly turning into its own style of urban center. In the last year alone, virtually every major institution in our community has discussed, is planning, or has completed major changes. Princeton University, the University Medical Center at Princeton, the Arts Council, the Princeton Public Library, and the Princeton Regional School District, to name a few, are all involved in the process, not to mention the five-story building that Princeton Borough is about to build on the surface parking lot at Tulane and Spring streets. As a result of all these developments, Princeton has become a major regional destination along the Northeast corridor.

Among some of the nationally known figures who visited Princeton in 2004 were former President Bill Clinton; Secretary of State Colin Powell; former Secretary of State George Schultz; Delaware Senator Joseph Biden; 60 Minutes Correspondent Mike Wallace; former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke; and of course all the world-famous entertainers who performed at McCarter Theatre. As a result, Princeton has become a major national destination. But in 2004, despite its continued growth and its highlighted spot on the national map, Princeton behaves as any small town would. What made headlines in the past month? A contentious 1,300-foot stretch of sidewalk on Snowden Lane.

The Arts Council

In June, the Princeton Regional Planning Board approved the expansion of the Arts Council. Residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood had been concerned that a 16,740-square-foot, Michael Graves-designed building on the current site of the Arts Council at 102 Witherspoon Street would set a precedent for future expansion in that neighborhood, one of the oldest in Princeton, and historically home to Princeton's African-American community. The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association (WJNA), which led the opposition to the Arts Council's plans, argued that the process was largely conducted without regard for the historical integrity of the neighborhood.

But members of the Arts Council Board of Trustees, several of whom live in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, said they felt that improved facilities and programming would result in a more neighbor-friendly institution. "If it makes a difference for the kids, then I support it," said Dana Hughes, Green Street resident and Arts Council board member at the time of approval. "If it helps the children and helps the community then I support it."

Crime in Town

Bias crimes and student shootings headlined the news this year in Princeton, much to the dismay of residents and local officials. The most violent incident came in September with the shooting and killing of former Princeton High School student Jean Mario Israel, 19, in Trenton, followed by the news that he belonged to the nationally-known Bloods gang and had been shot by a member of a rival gang.

In December a current PHS student and a forward on the basketball team, Richard Wilson, 17, was shot in the back in Trenton, and is now undergoing treatment at a rehab center in Philadelphia for paralysis in his lower body. The shooting has not yet been related to gang violence.

Other incidents in the Borough this fall caused concern among residents and school officials, particularly in early November when a warning that a student was the subject of threats from a Trenton-based gang forced Princeton High School to be put under lock-down for a day. While nothing came of that particular incident, the same period saw two separate attacks on Hispanic residents by black youths, also residents, one of whom was involved in both attacks. Further alarming the community was a Halloween incident at the corner of Bayard Lane and Hodge Road involving upwards of 50 youths making gang-related hand gestures at one another.

Called in response to these acts of violence, a November meeting of the Princeton Human Services Commission on race relations attracted many concerned members of the community. A gang violence forum hosted by police and the Princeton Regional Schools later the same month alerted the public to gang symbols and language. An investigator assured parents that gang violence was not prevalent in Princeton.

With immigration raids already increasing throughout the country, including one mid-October incident in the Borough where nine men were taken away in handcuffs by immigration officials, the Borough passed a resolution in November calling for immigration reforms in the federal government. Responding to distrust in the Latino community after immigration officials identified themselves as police while raiding a Witherspoon Street residence, the police assured Hispanic residents they did not need to be afraid to come forward and report any criminal incidents. Princeton Township Committee, however, denied requests to adopt a resolution, pointing out that such an enactment was not necessarily applicable in the Township. According to Mayor Marchand "a piece of paper is not going to specifically make [immigrants] more comfortable."

Colin Powell

In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Princeton University's Richardson Auditorium to accept the Crystal Tiger Award, a new prize presented by Princeton undergraduates that recognizes an individual who has impacted lives, communities, and values. His appearance was one of the highlights of the week-long 100th birthday celebration of historian and former Ambassador George F. Kennan.

Mr. Powell also defended the use of force in Iraq, saying the U.S.-led war is "justified, and [is being] fought skillfully and is bringing a new dignity to the Iraqi people and to the entire region."

Mr. Powell's speech took place as 30 to 40 people gathered outside at Tiger Park to protest the war and to call for peace.

Flu Shot Shortage

When the U.K.-based Chiron Corporation announced in the early fall that its license had been suspended because of sterility concerns in its product Fluvirin, communities all over the country felt the impact of the flu vaccine shortage. The shortage placed strains on local pharmacies forced to administer the vaccines to a limited number of residents. At the time, the vaccine shortage shut down area flu clinics administering free shots. As a result hundreds lined up outside pharmacies like Eckerd Drug Store at the Princeton Shopping Center to purchase flu shots that would have otherwise been dispensed at clinics.

Hospital's Home?

The Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS), which comprises several care facilities including the University Medical Center at Princeton on Witherspoon Street, released its strategic plan calling for widespread expansion and improvements to existing facilities. The prospect of expansion also entailed potential relocation to a campus within 15 to 20 minutes of downtown Princeton. PHCS has indicated that if it were to move, it would ideally acquire between 35 and 50 acres of land to house the various factions of PHCS, including Princeton House Behavioral Health, Merwick Rehab Hospital & Nursing Care, Princeton HomeCare Services, Princeton Fitness & Wellness Center, and the Princeton Surgical Center.

This relocation/expansion question spawned a community dialogue led by the Princeton Health Care Task Force, a body of municipal planning, zoning, and elected officials specifically created to address the hospital issues. The task force has recently completed a series of public forums exploring the hospital's options. The hospital has yet to indicate whether it will stay or leave, but a decision is expected in the near future.

School Construction

The $81.3 million construction and renovation project for all six schools in the district made a lot of headway this year, as all four elementary schools opened on time this fall, with only punch-list items still needing to be completed. John Witherspoon Middle School opened with a brand new science wing, and its new pool was completed in late November. Construction and renovation projects are still continuing at the school.

Construction work on Princeton High School was delayed until the end of 2003. New construction is now expected to be completed sometime next summer. Contractors fell approximately seven months behind due to delays in approval of construction drawings and a gas leak at the school at the end of April, according to representatives of Ernest Bock & Sons, the school's contractors.

Parking problems at the high school were finally addressed this year, beginning with discussions in late February and concluding with a parking plan that was in place when school started in September.

Approved by the Borough, Township, and school board, the plan allotted 70 parking spaces per semester for students on roads surrounding the high school. The plan still has flaws, with many parents and residents asking that the permit hours end at 3 p.m., rather than 6 p.m. This and other issues with the parking system will be addressed between the district and the municipalities early on in the new year.

Phase II

In May, the Princeton Regional Planning Board approved plans for developer Nassau HKT to embark on the second phase of the downtown redevelopment project. Phase I was the building of the Spring Street municipal garage and the open square adjacent to the newly-built Princeton Public Library. The construction of the new structure is slated to begin sometime in the spring on the current site of the surface lot at the corner of Tulane and Spring streets.

Otherwise known as "Building C," the L-shaped structure will also include 10 affordable housing units, a courtyard, and two public walkways. One pedestrian-only walkway will connect Spring Street with a 13-foot-wide, two-way delivery corridor running between Building C and the Princeton Record Exchange.

The May approval preceded the end of Concerned Citizens of Princeton's unsuccessful attempt to halt the downtown development. In late October, Concerned Citizens lost its bid to re-open a legal case against the municipality, thus ending its lawsuit, which declared that Princeton Borough Council had moved forward with the $13.7 million downtown redevelopment project despite clear opposition from residents.

The two-year battle was resolved at the Mercer County Superior Court level in June, and dismissed by the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the fall.

A Dry Fete

To the dismay of Fete organizers, rain had become a regular factor in the annual day fair, but not this year. While it did rain – substantially, in fact – the 2004 "Rocket Fete" was able to keep a drenching at bay by holding it's 51st Annual event along the concourse of the Princeton Stadium.

New Library, Garage

Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street opened in April, soon followed by the opening of the Spring Street garage. After some glitches during the first few weeks, there was a positive move forward, with the library boasting an attendance of more than 2,000 patrons per day. The library said goodbye to its board of trustees president, Harry Levine, in July, and welcomed its new president, Nancy Russell, shortly thereafter. In the fall the library was the scene of a remembrance ceremony for Christopher Reeve, a former Princeton resident, actor, and advocate of stem cell research, who died on October 10.

Currently underway, the next phase of the project is the plaza outside the library, and the Witherspoon House apartments, which will offer a restaurant on its first floor. The Witherspoon Grill is due to open by summer 2005.


After 17 years, the Brood X swarm of cicadas crawled out of the ground, providing a turbine-hum soundtrack to Princeton for about six weeks in the spring. Princeton was particularly vulnerable to the swarm because of the old trees whose roots have housed generations of cicadas for hundreds of years.

The phenomenon of trees teeming and humming with cicadas caught some residents off-guard. Historically known for their bad eyesight, the cicadas were perceived to "attack" some innocent passers-by. But the underground dwellers were simply looking for a tree, a utility pole, a bush, or anything upright to latch onto.

Borough Taxes

In July, the Borough passed a budget of $21.94 million for 2004, despite hearty complaints from residents in the months leading up to the vote. Taxes increased by 12 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of land, two cents less than originally predicted, as a result of last-minute funding the municipality received from the state.

To reassure residents, the Borough passed a resolution promising that it would try to keep taxes at the same level for 2005. In December, Council was given assurance that that goal was still possible.

Fears of the Borough losing some of its tax revenue from nearby eating clubs at Princeton University were recently calmed when Acting Governor Richard Codey signed a bill into law in December that will prevent eating clubs such as the Cottage Club from evading their tax obligations to the Borough. The club pays more than $50,000 to the Borough each year. Elections

In January, Joseph O'Neill was sworn in as the new mayor of Princeton Borough, after the retirement of Mayor Marvin Reed. Both men worked together in January and February to finalize the Palmer Square housing settlement, which approved construction of the 97 housing units on Paul Robeson Place after a 13-year struggle over the developer's terms. Scheduled to be completed within the next five to 10 years, 10 units of affordable housing were part of the agreement.

Later in the year the Borough also approved stacked parking for the three downtown garages, which would allow for more parking spaces once the new apartments are built.

In February, Andrew Koontz was sworn in as the new member of Borough Council, assuming the seat vacated by Mayor O'Neill. Mr. Koontz beat out former Councilman Mark Freda by a Council vote of 3 to 2.

In early spring, Anne Waldron Neumann, Democrat, Mark Freda, Democrat, and Princeton University student Evan Baehr, Republican, announced their intent to run against incumbent Democrats Mr. Koontz and Roger Martindell for a three-year term on Borough Council. Mr. Koontz and Mr. Martindell won the June primary and retained their seats on Council in the November election.

In the Township, Witherspoon Street resident Lance Liverman was elected to fill the seat of departing Committeewoman Karen C. "Casey" Hegener, and Mayor Phyllis Marchand was re-elected to Committee, a seat she has held since 1987. She has served nine consecutive one-year terms as mayor and is expected to be voted in again by her colleagues on Committee at the Township re-organization meeting this Sunday.

Mr. Liverman, the current vice chairman of Princeton Human Services Commission, also heads up Liverman Associates, a real estate venture. He is also a trustee on the Princeton Community Village Housing Board and the Arts Council of Princeton's Neighborhood Advisory Board.

Elected Officials

School Board members Anne Burns and Charlotte Bialek exchanged leadership roles in the spring, with Ms. Burns becoming the new Board president and Ms. Bialek becoming the new vice president. Incumbent Board candidates JoAnn Cunningham, Alan Hegedus, and Ms. Bialek were re-elected this year, and the district's $62.3 million budget passed by a margin of 2 to 1.

After an announcement in early spring that the district's superintendent of four years, Dr. Claire Sheff Kohn, would be leaving her post on July 1 for a position in Massachusetts, the district launched the search for a replacement. Dr. Richard Marasco was hired in June as interim superintendent, and Judith Wilson, current superintendent in the Woodbury School District, was officially hired as the new superintendent in October, and will assume her post on February 1. She was named New Jersey's superintendent of the year shortly after Princeton hired her.

SAT Scores, Senior Trip

After holding first place in SAT scores for two years, the district fell to number three in 2004 behind Millburn and Montgomery. However, the district moved ahead in other areas of education this year, after receiving one state grant to begin a pre-kindergarten program at Johnson Park Elementary School, and another to start a program that will help individualize student attention on the freshman level at the high school. Following efforts this fall by PHS class president Sasha Jean to schedule a senior class trip to Disney World for the entire student body next spring, the trip was recently cancelled due to a lack of student interest. With the initial cost estimated at $700 per student, some Board members had opposed the trip because it would exclude some students.

Lawsuit, Arrests

Along with the positive actions taken this year in the Princeton Regional Schools, the district was also faced with some difficult issues. This fall a lawsuit was filed by parents of female softball and ice hockey students at PHS contending that the district was in violation of Title IX, which makes it illegal for schools to deny educational benefits on the basis of gender.

With the parents' main concern being the need for more and better fields for the girls' softball team, the Board stepped up to the plate in late November by passing a resolution that asks the district's administration to consider providing funds in the 2005-2006 school budget for two new softball fields, and to update the existing field at John Witherspoon Middle School. Thus far the lawsuit has not been dropped.

At the end of November, the district also learned that two employees of Princeton Young Achievers, an after-school program for at-risk youths operating out of the district's Valley Road building, were arrested and arraigned in connection with the purchase of $6,600 in computer equipment and office supplies on an unauthorized Staples account. Nichelle Hill, 37, of Willingboro, the former executive director of PYA, and Beverly Harrington, 34, of Princeton, her assistant, both left their positions prior to the arrests.

Millstone Bypassed

At a town forum in West Windsor in February, New Jersey's Department of Transportation all but wrote the epitaph to the former Millstone Bypass.

The proposed $65 million dollar road realignment had been the cause of much consternation among municipalities and land owners along the Penns Neck portion of Route 1. Under DOT's new plan, Harrison Street will end in a cul-de-sac and then connect drivers through 23 acres of Princeton University land along an access road toward Route 1.

All parties involved seem to be pleased with the new plan–except West Windsor, which had supported an "eastside connector" roadway that would have run alongside the Millstone River, effectively diverting traffic from Washington Road, a residential area in West Windsor. "Of course we are very disappointed," said West Windsor Township Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh.

The DOT conceded that while an eastside connector would have been an effective solution to facilitate traffic flow, too many environmental factors were at play.

"Between disturbing the floodplains [of the Millstone River], and endangered species, there were just too many environmental impacts that would have to be addressed," said DOT spokesperson Mike Horan.

Writers Block

Talk about urban renewal: in June a team of Princeton architects, landscapers, and visionaries unveiled their plan to turn a vacant lot behind Palmer Square into a "literary garden" that would showcase Princeton's literary and architectural luminaries. The organizers, project coordinator Peter Soderman, architects Kevin Wilkes and Alan Goodheart, partnership coordinator Dana Licht-strahl, and events coordinator Hope Van Cleaf, solicited involvement from both architects and writers.

The project brought 10 design teams with local authors to produce something that many had never seen before: a garden of follies, or garden structures, where families could visit and various groups could hold outdoor readings. The highlight of the four-month installation: Civil War expert James McPherson standing in the early autumn afternoon light at his Kevin Wilkes-designed folly reading from his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.

The garden proved to be somewhat of a financial burden for organizers when the follies did not attract large amounts of money after being put up for auction in October, but organizers felt vindicated when, in November, the New Jersey Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced the in-town garden had been issued the Honor Award for Built Project in 2004. Organizers hope to put up similar installations in years to come.


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