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Medical Center Forum Will Focus on In-town Expansion Prospects

In an apparent response to a growing concern as to how hospital lands would be used if the facility were to stay on-site, the Princeton Health Care Task Force has changed the theme of tomorrow night's public forum to re-emphasize possible scenarios if the hospital were to expand at 253 Witherspoon Street.

Up to now, many who sit on the task force composed of Borough and Township-elected, planning, and zoning officials. have resisted saying that it is a foregone conclusion the hospital will leave town for a comprehensive campus somewhere nearby, but hospital officials have been clear that they need a site where they can not only expand and improve now, but where they can expand and improve in the future. Those goals, according to many in attendance at recent meetings, seem to preclude the possibility of an in-town hospital.

There are several members of the task force, however, who believe there are ways to keep the hospital in town, be it through "building up," or scaling back on the hospital's goals. But hospital officials, including Barry Rabner, CEO and president of Princeton HealthCare System, have maintained that, like any business, the hospital needs to grow.

Tomorrow night's meeting, which is to be held at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall, will feature more of a "roundtable" format where task force members will offer their input on the information previously given regarding the hospital's fate.

"In our last public session, it was not clear to us what the Medical Center would really want to do – especially in terms of what they would consider to be their ultimate build-out plan," said Marvin Reed, task force chairperson. "They talked about extending [the facility] across the street over time, and we envisioned we would have to consider re-zoning that area in order to ensure the Medical Center that if they did remain here, they at least would have the right to do it."

In referring to "across the street," Mr. Reed spoke of the hospital's October 14 presentation outlining a scenario where the facility would expand across Witherspoon Street, Harris Road, and Henry Avenue.

However, since that meeting, Mr. Reed said, the hospital has indicated that "what they showed was not really what they thought they would ultimately want or need to do."

In light of that, Thursday night's meeting won't be conducted in a presentation format, but more of a public meeting of the task force, Mr. Reed said. "We can review where we are at this point, what is the current zoning in that neighborhood, what might we consider as a way to re-zone the area, and how far the task force might be willing to go in making recommendations."

"Tomorrow's meeting will be a deliberation between the task force members so they can work out their points of view on how and whether the hospital can be accommodated," Mr. Reed said.

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