Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 29
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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Historic Preservation Commission Hears Report on Valley Road Building

Ellen Gilbert

KSS Architects’ recently released report on possible outcomes for the Valley Road building was the main focus of attention at the Monday afternoon meeting of the Township’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). Of particular concern was the report’s contention that refurbishing the existing building would cost between 22 and 24 million dollars.

There has been general agreement that something needs to be done in the near future with the aging building that currently houses the Princeton Regional School Board’s (PRS) administrative offices, as well as Corner House Counseling Center, the Princeton Township Affordable Housing office, Princeton Young Achievers, and Princeton Community Television (“TV 30”).

KSS Architects had been appointed by the district to analyze current and potential uses for the building. The executive summary of the resulting KSS report notes that the “Princeton Regional School system is burdened with increasing operating costs for this large and inefficiently used property. Concern was also expressed about the liability regarding the accessibility and safety of the failing existing structures.”

Based on analyses of “site/buiding configuration/condition, zoning/neighborhood character, cost, market demand, and programmatic needs,” the report offers four potential scenarios for the Valley Road Building. Plan A is the costly upgrade of the existing building. Plan B, while salvaging portions of the existing building and providing for continued use by PRS and Corner House, would cost an estimated $5,805,950. Plan C’s construction of an “efficient building” that would also house PRS and Corner House would run between $5,525,000 and $8,008,000.

The fourth alternative, Plan D, proposes creating a completely new development. with housing, offices and retail spaces available for sale or rent. Presented as the most desirable outcome, Plan D notes the location’s proximity to Town Hall, and observes that this plan would result in an “exciting mixed use neighborhood” at zero cost, with the potential for revenue.

Members of the HPC expressed skepticism about the 22 to 24-million-dollar price tag for keeping the existing building and bringing it up to date, an amount that would seem to preclude saving a building that reflects several eras of Princeton architecture, and has long been identified as a community center.

Vice-Chair Julie Capozzoli observed that “there are a lot of architects in town who would like to do a charette on this. In the current economic environment, many people would like the work. Why not open it up to other professionals to brainstorm and get more proposals?” HPC member Elric J. Endersby wondered whether Valley Road School graduates who still live in the area and have appropriate expertise might be brought in to look at the building, assess its condition, and make suggestions.

“It’s still a substantial building,” Mr. Endersby observed, and it was agreed that he and Historic Preservation Officer Christine Lewandoski would draft a letter, asking PRS to include the HPC in its eventual deliberations.

Masonry vs. Block

In other business at Monday’s meeting, the HPC endorsed a plan to use modular walls rather than poured concrete with stone veneer in repairing switchback walls along the Stoney Brook trail. Use of modular walls, which would be a maximum of eight feet tall, would result in a savings of $150,000. It was noted that the walls will not be visible from the trail, and there are plans for additional trees to screen them. HPC members will be involved in selecting appropriate colors for the new structures.

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