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Princeton Undergoes a 'Groundbreaking' Year

Matthew Hersh
Candace Braun

It took a village to turn Princeton into something more than what was once a stable stop-off between Philadelphia and New York City. Now, that village has turned itself into something more, with 2003 exhibiting Princeton's ability to define itself further as not only a destination, but as a regional center for enterprise, academics, and community.

Groundbreakings ruled in 2003 as many long-time institutions took steps to renovate. After sending out to bid construction projects for all four elementary schools, the middle school and high school several times, contracts were awarded for all but the high school by mid-January, and construction on the schools started soon after. High School construction began in mid-November.

Princeton University broke ground on the former-Pagoda Courts site to begin building Whitman College, the University's 6th residential college. The University said it was building the residence to accommodate an increase in its undergraduate student population by 500 to 5,100 by the fall of 2009.

The University also recently received approval to build a cutting-edge science library along Washington Road. The library, designed by architect Frank Gehry, is expected to turn heads while serving the University's growing community. Princeton Day School announced construction plans for a new administrative wing, arts wing, and lunch rooms.

These construction projects represent an underlying theme: Princeton is growing, and its infrastructure is growing to accommodate these changes.

New and ongoing projects included: the $18.7 million library; the 500-car garage on the former park and shop lot; 97 (or 100 depending on whom you ask) luxury apartments to be built on Hulfish North; the Township Municipal Complex; and new recreation fields for growing demands.

However, Princeton has also made a considerable effort to preserve open space in the face of a built-out community. Most recently, with the help of the Delaware & Raritan Greenway, the Township preserved 155 acres along The Great Road after that tract came close to being developed.

Princeton has also made significant effort to preserve tracts of open space for recreation fields for leisure and youth sports.

David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management, L.L.C, said that Princeton has rebounded and will continue to make a mark throughout the region.

"Despite weathering adversity like economy and construction, the town has not only survived, but has absolutely come out stronger than ever," Mr. Newton said.

Vicky Bergman, chairperson of the Princeton Regional Planning Board has said that while the town is growing, and while some residents may not want to see a more expansive Princeton, careful and calculated growth will lead to positive results.

"Barring war, or famine, or poverty, Princeton will grow," she said.

Downtown Redevelopment

The biggest moment in Borough history not only for this year, but perhaps for the last decade, was the 5-1 approval of the downtown redevelopment project by Borough Council on January 21, 2003.

The $13.5 million project will include a 500-space parking garage over the Park and Shop lot, along with a five-story apartment building in front of the west face of the garage, several walkways, and a public plaza to the south of the new Princeton Public Library.

The metered lot facing Spring Street will be the site of another five-story residential building, to be built in a second phase, after the construction on the garage is complete. Both apartments will have retail space on the ground floor.

With an original completion date of December 2003, the garage is now due to be complete by early March, with a new parking system both in the garage, and at surrounding parking meters.

Along with the new downtown garage, the Princeton Public Library made a lot of headway on its $18 million construction project. The building was demolished in February 2002, and construction on the building began in December.

The library has been temporarily located at the Princeton Shopping Center, where it has remained all year, and will remain into March, when the library staff anticipates moving its books to the new facility.

Currently the library is running an Opening Day Collection initiative to raise $200,000 for new books. Large donations have been given by the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, as well as the Hillier Group.

Mayor Reed Retires

With a heartfelt goodbye to 13-year mayor, Marvin Reed, this week, Council will soon welcome Joseph O'Neill as the new mayor of Princeton Borough. In the November election, Wendy Benchely and Peggy Karcher, both incumbent, were reelected to their seats on Council, as well.

Mr. O'Neill's open seat will be filled by a candidate of the Council's choosing. In early January, the Princeton Democratic Committee will present three candidates from which the Council will choose. Potential candidates, who formally announced their interest in the position at a candidate forum in mid-December, are Andrew Koontz, Jenny Crumiller, Mark Freda, and Anne Waldron Neumann.

Mayor Reed's final act as mayor was to reach a settlement with Palmer Square Housing concerning the 97 housing units on Paul Robeson Place, which had been a subject of debate for the last 13 years. Pending approval in January by Council, the units will be built within the next five years, with 10 units of affordable housing as part of the agreement.

In other news, the Borough battled the University's Cottage Club's attempts to achieve tax exemption status. If status had been achieved, the Borough would have lost as least $50,000 per year in taxes from the building. However, the exemption was not granted by the state.

Needs for Hospital

With rumors flying as to whether the hospital will stay and build "up" it's current seven-acre site at 253 Witherspoon Street, or move to the outskirts of town to a proposed 50-acre complex, Princeton HealthCare system has attempted to keep its facilities up-to-date while fending off speculation.

Barry Rabner, president and CEO of PCHS, has said that while the hospital needs to undergo serious change in the next few years, he and the hospital's board of trustees are still weighing options. Ultimately, Mr. Rabner said, the deciding factor is where the hospital can provide the best care for the greater-Princeton community.

"The hospital has to be contemporary and state of the art," Mr. Rabner said in explaining what is needed for the current facility and why it may be simpler to establish a comprehensive, out-of-town campus.

Last May, the hospital presented prospective plans for an expanded, refurbished in-town facility to the Princeton Regional Planning Board and to Princeton Future.

"We have a seven-acre site where it is difficult to be contemporary in its present form," Mr. Rabner said. "We want to create a facility that continues to be a good place to work and attracts good service and physicians."

Open Space

According to Jack Roberts, executive director of the Princeton Recreation Department, Princeton is several years behind other municipalities in terms of its recreational needs. As a result, the Township and Borough have worked together to create more open space for for recreational uses. Earlier this month, a recommendation given to the Planning Board called for more recreational fields to keep up with a growing demand.

One area that Mr. Roberts mentioned involved two square parcels of land, 18 acres total, that sit at the confluence of River and Herrontown Roads as being open for potential recreational use.

Mr. Roberts added that the Recreation Department is currently involved in negotiations with the New Jersey State Department of Military Affairs to acquire a "small footprint" for the possible future construction of a youth baseball field. Located near the Princeton Armory, the area overlaps land earmarked for the military department.

According to Mr. Roberts, the land needed for baseball fields would span approximately five acres, and the existing buildings on the site could be developed for indoor recreational purposes.


In university news, the Borough agreed to put off adopting an ordinance that would allow police to investigate private property for underage drinking and other legalities for another year. This was decided because of a University-wide effort by students and faculty to lower the number of drinking incidents that occur on campus, as well as downtown.

Tree City, U.S.A.

In late November, The Princeton Township Committee approved an ordinance that moved to protect trees on both public and private properties.

The general purpose of the "shade tree" code is to preserve the Township's tree canopy cover of 38 percent, and to prevent clear-cutting trees, or cutting down more than 20 percent of trees on a property.

The measure also created a permit process on proposed tree cutting outside the planning and site review processes, with penalties for illegal tree destruction as high as $1,250.

Township Arborist Greg O'Neil said at the time that while the new law goes deeper into the realm of private property, the intention is to not hinder progress by making it more difficult to remove trees but an exercise in "good environmental practice."

Deer Management

What would an annual summation of Princeton be without mentioning Princeton Township's deer management program?

In September, following a heated public debate, the Township Committee passed an ordinance that allows bow hunting in four Township parks. Those parks include the Woodfield Reservation, Autumn Hill Reservation, Fieldwood, and Stony Brook at Puritan Court.

In the on-going efforts to control the deer population, the Committee implemented this method to enhance an a program already in place.

The Township has contracted with White Buffalo, a private, professional organization, to conduct its deer management program. However, in July, the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife denied the Township's request for a permit to conduct a third year of deer management if the plan did not include bow hunting as one of the methods employed in deer culling. In August, a revised application was resubmitted that included this tactic.

In the end, the Township agreed to allow a limited number of bow hunters in the four designated areas. Bow hunters are only allowed to operate during bow hunting season. This year, the season falls between September 6 and February 14.

Branch Library

Hopes for a branch library will have to remain tentative into 2004 as plans for a new bookstore in the temporary library location at the Princeton Shopping Center have solidified.

Ira and Pamela Kaye of East Windsor announced their intentions of opening a discount bookseller at the Shopping Center that focused on community activities and child reading programs.

The bookstore, which will house approximately 200,000 volumes, will open in August 2004.

"That space has been identified with books for so long," said Ira Kaye in November. "It's great to be able to have that continuity."

"It's a dream for my wife and me," Mr. Kaye said. The store will be named for a long-time family emblem, he added.

A Brainy Donation

In October, the Princeton Historical Society announced that it had received a collection of furniture that once belonged to Albert Einstein while he lived at his Princeton residence at 112 Mercer Street.

The furniture had been in the hands of the Institute for Advanced Study up to that point.

Sixty-five pieces of Einstein's furniture made up the donation, including his favorite tub armchair and his family's Biedermeir-style grandfather clock. All the pieces have been subjected to methods of conservation and restoration; Several pieces, however, including Einstein's music stand and pipe, are already on display at Bainbridge House, at 158 Nassau Street.

The conservation process is not cheap, however. The Historical Society had to hire a professional conservator to begin work on selected items. Preliminary estimates put the cost of cleaning and conservation of the entire collection at roughly $60,000. In light of these costs, the Historical Society has received an $18,000 grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission to facilitate the conservation process.

Princeton can count its blessings for being able to keep these treasured items in town.

At the time, Historical Society Director Gail Stern beamed, "We know the Smithsonian would have been very happy with [the furniture],"

Time for Remembrance

Princeton residents joined the rest of the country in prayer on the eve of the two-year anniversary of the attacks of September 11.

The gathering concluded with a candlelit "circle of hope" that coincided with the large-scale event in Lower Manhattan at the World Trade Center site.

The interfaith ceremony featured representatives from every major religious organization in the Princeton area and celebrated the bond that has been created between members of different faiths since the terror attacks.

The event promoted peace and religious tolerance, not politics. Dr. Parvaiz Malik, president of the Islamic Society of Central Jersey in Monmouth Junction said that "[September 11] brought the entire society together." He went to say after he was interrupted by several rounds of applause that he had "never seen so many faiths standing in one group standing with each other and talking with each other."

Let it Snow

This year was bookended by two major nor'easters that pounded the region.

In February, Princeton received over 20 inches of snow in a late-season blizzard that caught many commuters in a mid-week surprise.

However, even more surprising was the early December storm that dumped 14 inches on the area. The late fall storm brought excitement to kids, young and old, throughout the area. Fortunately, no serious accidents were reported, save some bumps and bruises from aggressive sleigh riding.

"We had a lot of cars slide off the road and road conditions were bad with several minor fender-benders, but no serious injuries," reported Lieutenant Robert Buchanan of the Princeton Township Police Department at the time.

However, more weather headache fell upon the region as heavy rains later in the week brought flood levels to the area not seen since Hurricane Floyd in September 1999. A combination between the rapidly-melting snow and clogged storm drains were attributed for exacerbating the flooding.

Bane of Harry's Brook

With a $26,000 New Jersey Department of Transportation project underway, residents of the Harry's Brook neighborhood have faced their share of problems.

With four significant floodings in the past five months, residents of the Littlebrook Road area have seen Harry's Brook go from babbling to bellowing.

Possibly the most dramatic case of flooding this year occurred at the DOT construction site. Flood waters in that location rose quickly creating a marsh in the backyards of residents around Tyson Lane and Littlebrook and Random Roads.

However, the DOT construction is not considered responsible by the Township Engineering Department

Recent flooding caused Stony Brook flooded and caused the closing of the Quaker Road, near Route 206, and Rosedale Road, near Johnson Park School. The West Windsor side of Harrison Street was closed due to canal flooding, and Prospect Avenue was temporarily closed between Riverside Drive and Castle Howard Court.

Choosing A Candidate

Finally, in November, Township residents chose between three candidates for the Committee seat that will be vacated by retiring Committeeman Leonard Godfrey.

Promising more focused leadership and closer citizen engagement, Bill Hearon, Democrat, won the Township Committee seat with nearly 60 percent of the vote.

"My goal is to set up processes for people to get engaged in the Township," Mr. Hearon said upon receiving news of his victory. "I will set up outlets and means for people to have a voice and an impact within our community."

The ideal goal of alleviating troubled traffic patterns and finding more comprehensive systems of public transit throughout the community is a point of concentration for Mr. Hearon.

"We've been looking at transportation issues and I have been privileged to be exposed to some really creative ideas on this subject regarding the region as a whole," he said.

Regional Schools

The Princeton Regional School District had its ups and downs over the past year. With the awarding of bids and construction start anticipated at the end of 2001, board members were repeatedly disappointed when they had to send projects for the four elementary schools, middle school, and high school back to bid several times to come within its $81.3 million budget.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $61.3 million bond referendum to cover construction costs in May 2001. That amount was then supported by an additional $20 million in state aid. The Board initially thought this would be enough to cover the project, but bids continually came in over budget, particularly for the high school.

Finally, at a special meeting on January 14, 2003, the Board unanimously approved the award of $36.4 million in contracts for construction at the four elementary schools and John Witherspoon Middle School. Construction on the five schools started soon after.

The high school project, which could not exceed $38 million, had once again come in over budget, and was delayed.

On April 21, four uncontested candidates were voted onto the School Board, and a $58 million budget was approved for the 2003-2004 academic year. The budget increased tax rates in the Borough roughly 11 percent, while it increased approximately nine percent in the Township.

In the Borough, incumbent Josh Leinsdorf was elected to his second three-year term with 237 votes, and newcomer Glenn Schlitz was elected to serve his first three-year term with 231 votes.

In the Township, incumbent Anne Burns was elected to her second three-year term with 546 votes, and incumbent JoAnn Cunningham was elected to a one-year term with 523 votes.

After reworking the high school construction project to include less construction and more renovations, the School Board sent the project out to bid once again on July 30. While bids were due back by mid-September, they were delayed two weeks when no bids had been received and contractors requested more time. After receiving seven bids by October 1, the School Board awarded a bid on October 2 to Ernest Bock and Sons, Inc. for the amount of $32.8 million. Construction on the high school started by mid-November, almost a year behind schedule. The high school's new principal, Gary Snyder, who took up his post in October, officiated over the groundbreaking ceremony.

In addition to bid awards, other obstacles had to be overcome. In August, a lawsuit filed by LandTek, an unsuccessful bidder on the installation of grass turf on the high school football field, caused a temporary injunction to be put in place, which halted installation for a number of weeks. This lawsuit cost the school approximately $40,000.

A wet summer also caused construction delays, then unmet building code requirements forced the delay of school opening by one day. Reactions to adhesive fumes from roofing at Johnson Park Elementary, and carpet mold and iron deposits in drinking water at Riverside Elementary were some of the problems the district faced soon after the start of school. Community Park also experienced a sewer line back up, resulting in students being forced to use bathrooms at the Valley Road building.

Between asbestos, mold, and water testing, the halting of roof construction at Johnson Park, the installation of ventilators at the elementary schools, and the overtime custodians put in at the start of school, the district ended the year more than $700,000 over budget.

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