Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
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School Board Passes Tentative Budget, Hears Proposal for Valley Road Building

Ellen Gilbert

At its monthly meeting last week, the Board of Education approved a tentative budget for the 2012 academic year and agreed to consider a proposal submitted by the Adapt and Reuse the Valley Road School Building (VRS-ARC) organization, describing potential rehabilitation and use of that building as a community center.

The proposed $80,280,690 budget is premised on a regular budget tax levy of $62,190,302, a 2.85 percent increase over last year. In the Township, that would translate as a $102 tax hike on an average home assessed at $827,000; Borough residents would face a $97 tax hike on homes with an average assessed value of $747,000.

Superintendent Judy Wilson reported that the balanced but “very conservative” budget would be submitted that evening to the County and reviewed for compliance over the next two weeks. When and if it is approved by the County, budget details will appear on the district’s website and in the press. A public hearing is planned for Tuesday, March 22.

The Board also proposed that a single question about banking health care costs for future years appear on the coming ballot.

“It’s not about content as much as meaning,” observed Ms. Wilson, noting that additional details will be forthcoming. Although this year’s state-imposed two percent cap is half of what it was last year, she noted that “we are recommending a budget for 2012 that does not slash programs for students and does not repeat last year’s losses. Although the state has reallocated 20 percent of the aid money cut from last year’s budget, working with just the remaining 80 percent means that the pain of last year’s state aid loss will continue to be felt.”

The budget provides for hiring three new high school faculty members to help with math and social studies classes. It will not address capital projects, “overcrowded classrooms” or “a minimal base for technology one of our greatest needs,” said Ms. Wilson. She noted that the board will be “looking to create a new revenue stream to fund technology in a major way. The day is gone when we can expect N.J. taxpayers to foot the bill for everything.”

Valley Road Building

In the VSR-ARC presentation Dick Woodbridge, Kip Cherry, Anne Reeves, Claire Jacobus, and others described VSR-ARC’s vision for the building as an educational and arts hub that would be part of the “cultural corridor” that already includes the Arts Council and the public library. It was noted that a number of prospective occupants, including the McCarter Theatre, Princeton Symphony Orchestra, School Plus, and the Bryn Mawr booksale have expressed interest in using and financing spaces in the largely unoccupied building.

At this point, current residents of the Valley Road Building, including TV30, Corner House, and the Township’s Affordable Housing Office, will have to vacate their part of the building by June 30.

Charter member Ridge Applegate described adaptive reuse standards that will cost significantly less than the millions of dollars suggested in a report on hypothetical treatments of the building prepared by KSS architects four years ago.

“We know now that if the boiler goes down, we can fix it,” reported Mr. Applegate. The committee, which recently formed a corporation, has already retained professionals who have estimated that it would cost $2,800 to repair the building’s boiler, and $2,000 to repair two holes in the roof above the television studio.

“We were told the building is falling down,” observed Mr. Applegate. Instead, he said, a “highly respected mason” has come up with two proposals, at $40,000 and $60,000, to repair the brickwork. “Those walls are solid brick,” said Mr. Applegate. “Its not something that’s built that way anymore. The foundation came from quarry stone found in the neighborhood,” he added. “It’s a very solid building. It’s survived 37 years of neglect.”

Only “minor upgrading” of the building’s electrical system will be needed during “phase one” of the plan, Mr. Applegate said. There won’t be any need for costly asbestos removal, he noted, since the building was erected before asbestos was widely used; it turns out that horsehair was the only fiber actually found in its insulation. Cleaning pipes and repainting will eliminate the small amount of lead paint that has been found, and it appears to be possible, he reported, to fix the even most severely damaged windows. “We’re ready to proceed when we take over the building in June or July,” concluded Mr. Applegate.

Board President Rebecca Cox thanked the committee for their submission, and suggested that $140,000 estimate for repairs was “a reasonable amount.” She noted, however, that the board will continue to accept other proposals through the end of June.

For more information, visit SaveValleyRoadSchool.org or saveValleyRoadFacebook.

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