Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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Whither Valley Road? Building’s Future Remains To Be Decided

Ellen Gilbert

At a recent meeting of the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), member Elric J. Endersby expressed concern about the Valley Road Building, where it appears that little or no maintenance is being done. He wondered if this neglect was a deliberate effort to force the tearing-down of the building, parts of which date back to 1910. The building currently houses the Princeton Regional School Board’s administrative offices, as well as Corner House Counseling Center, the Princeton Township Affordable Housing office, Princeton Young Achievers, and Princeton Community Television (“TV 30”).

Mr. Endersby’s comments came in the context of a report about a conference he’d just attended, where he was particularly struck by a discussion that criticized the tradition, dating from the 1950s, of tearing down old school structures and building completely new ones in their place. “The quality of the old structures is lost,” he commented, giving an example in which older, sturdier windows from a razed building ultimately came to the rescue when a new building’s windows failed.

HPC Vice-Chair Julie Capozzoli said she thought that a proposal regarding the disposition of the Valley Road building was “in the works,” although no one at the meeting knew any details. There was a general consensus that the HPC should be involved in whatever planning is going on. A potential conflict surfaced when Mr. Endersby suggested that the Township’s Environmental Commission should be brought in as well, and someone pointed out that sustainable goals are often at odds with preservation concerns .

The question of what to do with the 73,000-square-foot building located on an approximately nine-acre site at the corner of Valley Road and Witherspoon Street has been on the Princeton community’s radar for some time. Back in 2001, when the Princeton area League of Women Voters used the topic “what do you think short-term and long-term plans for the Valley Road building should be?” as an opportunity for school board candidates at that time to express their thoughts on its future, Charlotte Bialek thought that, in the long term, “planning should include various community, educational or advisory services such as senior or youth services, fitness centers, museum or gallery space, or additional social service or clinical offices. A critical issue for joint use,” she added, “will be management and sharing of costs.

The status and redevelopment of the Valley Road building has been a staple on various municipal agendas for the last several years. In October of 2006 the Board of Education held a public discussion on “the future of its Valley Road Building.” The open forum included representatives of KSS Architects, the firm that had been appointed by the district to analyze current and potential uses for the building. Among the comments from the public that evening was one suggestion that a “new facility might serve as a homeless shelter or as transitional housing.”

More recently, School Superintendent Judy Wilson reported that the Board had completed its study with KSS and “is clear on three points: the fields [the playing fields immediately next to the building] must remain intact; the oldest part of the building, which faces Witherspoon, is a physical and fiscal liability for the Board and the Board should not allocate resources to improve its condition, in fact should demolish it; the core part of the Valley Road building which faces Valley Road can be renovated in a basic, minimalistic way as to provide safe and efficient use of the building for decades to come.”

“Beyond that,” she added, “the Board passed a resolution and offered the Borough and the Township time to study whether or not there are feasible plans for the use of this site which would support Board’s mission for education and also meet the municipalities’ needs for space, counseling, recreation, etc. That study and discussion are continuing. The Board expects to decide this fall which action to take in order to minimize expenses and maximize efficient use of the property. All eyes from every governing body are on how to best serve our community in a time of great need and fiscal conservatism.”

For his part, Township Planning Director Lee Solow said in a telephone interview that a committee, consisting of two representatives each from the school board, Borough Council, and Township Committee have been working on a report he himself prepared, which will be presented, he said, “early in July.”

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