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Waxwood Condos To Be Completed By Early September

Candace Braun

As the Borough continually looks for more areas of affordable housing in Princeton, one historic building in town will soon provide the answer for some John-Witherspoon residents.

Formally the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, the building housing The Waxwood condominiums should be ready for tenants by early September, said Linda Crites, market researcher for Hillier Architecture, the company which has bought and renovated the structure.

Originally built in 1858, the former school and nursing home on Quarry Street has been under construction for the past two years. The condominiums will range in size from 700 to 1,800 square feet and will have one or two bedrooms.

Because of the historic nature of the building, all of the housing units must be rented for five years, and then can be bought, at a price that has yet to be determined, said Ms. Crites. Rental prices will range from $800 for the affordable housing units, to $3,500 for the two-bedroom units, she said.

Approximately 25 percent of the housing units will be affordable to moderate-income families. Of the 34 total, five of the units will be reserved as affordable housing units for residents of the John-Witherspoon community who have lived there for 10 years, or are direct descendents of those who have lived there.

Established by J. Robert Hillier, the non-profit Waxwood Foundation will provide John-Witherspoon residents with 20 percent of the purchase price, which will essentially eliminate a down payment at the time of purchase. For renters, the foundation will offer a 10 percent rent subsidy. In addition to these five units, three others will be available for rental and eventual purchase under the Borough's affordable housing guidelines.

Mr. Hillier's development plan involves the rehabilitation of the building through the use of the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, which entitles owners of historic properties to a credit of 20 percent of rehabilitation costs if renovation plans closely resemble the building's original structure.

The architect has retained the original brick exterior and the school's wide corridors, which will be kept as thoroughfares. The floor plan of the building has been preserved and the ceilings have been returned to their original 12 ft. height.

Oversized windows that were partially covered over the years have been restored through the use of original photographs of the building. These 8.5 ft. windows, costing $350,000, were the most expensive part of the project, said Mr. Hillier.

Other features that will make the building more aesthetically pleasing will include a piazza with a fountain on the west side of the building, as well as several private gardens attached to individual units.

Historic Structure

The original Witherspoon School was tied to known Princetonians, including Paul Robeson, who attended for three years, and a slave owned by the Stockton family, Betsey Stockton, one of the school's first teachers.

In 1948, the school was opened up to children of all races, when New Jersey passed a state law that declared school segregation unconstitutional. The Princeton Plan was then developed, calling for the Witherspoon School to house children in sixth through eighth grade, regardless of race. The Witherspoon School remained open until 1968, after which it became the Princeton Nursing Home. When the nursing home moved to its new location on Bunn Drive in 2002, Mr. Hillier bought the building, with the intention of restoring the 100-year-old school and converting it into residential apartments.

The building was named The Waxwood by Mr. Hillier, in honor of Howard B. Waxwood Jr., the principal at the former school from 1936 to 1948, during the time of desegregation. Mr. Waxwood also served as principal at John Witherspoon Middle School from 1948 to 1968.

Mr. Hillier is the founder and president of Hillier Architecture, headquartered in Princeton. Founded in 1966, the company has now renovated and adapted seven residential properties in the Princeton area for residential use. Other buildings include One Markham and South's Garage on Moore Street.

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