Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 27
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
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Borough Council Hears Presentation On Valley Road Building

Ellen Gilbert

At its meeting last week, Borough Council heard a detailed description of the Valley School-Adaptive Reuse Committee’s (VRS-ARC) vision for the reclamation of the Valley Road School building as a community center. VRS-ARC spokespeople Kip Cherry, Dick Woodbridge, and Dan Preston portrayed “a creative space for non-profits,” that would be utilized by both long- and short-term tenants.

The Tuesday evening discussion was for informational purposes only; VRS-ARC, which is itself a 501C3 non-profit organization, is hoping to sign a long-term lease with the the Board of Education, the building’s owner. Noting that they are cognizant of current budget-stretching projects, like building a new pool and planning for possible consolidation, the presenters emphasized the fact that renovation and maintenance costs for the building would be borne by funds raised by the group’s development committee. The audience on Tuesday night applauded this promise that the refurbished building would not cost Princeton taxpayers anything.

As a result of a “detailed inspection,” Ms. Cherry said, VRS-ARC “understands” the building’s structural problems. Acknowledging that the building is in need of considerable repair, speakers described a plan to phase-in improvements over time; longer-term plans may include the installation of solar panels. In the meantime, sustainability criteria that will improve the building’s energy efficiency will be used as the renovation proceeds. It is hoped that a donor who would provide funding for renovations that would enable the building to achieve LEED certification, will come forward.

In keeping with the Board of Education’s directive, the primary mission of the building’s tenants would be educational. Current tenants, like TV30 and Corner House, already fit this bill. It is not yet clear whether Corner House will remain. Ms. Cherry expressed the hope that they would, and reported that over 20 other organizations have already expressed interest in using the building, which would include classrooms, office space, and a black box theater.

The concept of the building would enable tenants to use a particular space at a “reasonable” cost on certain days of the week, while other tenants use that same space on the remaining days. This maximized utilization of space and the ability to accommodate several different agencies — especially during a time when non-profits are having a hard time finding space — represents “a win-win situation,” observed Ms. Cherry. An organizational chart depicted shared decision-making among the building’s tenants, who would be renting space at a proposed rate of $11 per square foot.

Ms. Cherry also cited the building’s “special position in the community’s evolution in the 20th century,” describing the ways in which nearby buildings, like the adjacent fire house and Township Hall across the street, took design elements from the Valley Road Building, which is believed to have been built around 1918. The building’s location, she said, would make an anchor in Township for the “cultural corridor” that begins in the Borough with the library and Arts Council. “It is not the most important landmark on earth,” commented Ms. Cherry, “but it does have some nice features.” Its “good construction” includes four-bricks-thick walls that were built by the Italian-American community who were responsible for several of the buildings on the Princeton University campus.

Historically, the Valley Road building served as the first regional school in Princeton, and the first area public school to be integrated. Ms. Cherry described an exciting mid 20th-century era during which parents of students attending the school were particularly innovative. 

Mr. Preston spoke of preserving “a building that is a real asset to the community,” noting that for less than what it would cost to demolish, the first two phases of reclaiming the building could be achieved. He also noted that plans are “not set in stone,” and public input will be welcomed.

VSR-ARC will be presenting their plan to the School Board on July 14.

For further information see www.savevalleyroadschool.org/

Other conversations at last week’s meeting included strong encouragement from Borough Councilman Roger Martindell toward the creation of a “tickler file” that would keep track of important dates. He described the “informal system” that has been used for many years as “residing in the minds of individuals,” and expressed concern that this “institutional memory” will be lost with staff retirements.

“Generally we’ve been pretty good about it, but it is not a very good way to maintain a comprehensive list of deadlines, and the consequences can be very expensive,” said Mr. Martindell. Township Administrator Bob Bruschi allowed that he understood Mr. Martindells “frustration,” but daily workloads, staff losses, and the need to compile a great deal of information stood in the way. In response to Councilwoman Barbara Trelsted’s suggestion that there be “a contemporary tickler list for things that are on our plate during the next three to five years,” Mr. Bruschi said that most of that was accounted for. Mayor Mildred Trotman closed the discussion and asked Mr. Bruschi to expand on it at the Council’s next meeting, which was on Tuesday, July 5 (after press time).

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