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Board Hears University Construction Plan

Matthew Hersh

The Trustees of Princeton University appeared before the Regional Planning Board on Thursday night to propose the concept site plan for the University's sixth residential college. The proposed project, Whitman College, is intended to supply residential living quarters in the heart of the campus for an additional 500 students by the fall of 2006.

The residence college was named for President and CEO of eBay, Meg Whitman, after she donated $30 million for the project. Ms. Whitman is a graduate and trustee of Princeton University.

The purpose of the college is to increase the University's overall undergraduate population by 500 students in 125-student increments over a four-year course beginning in the fall of 2006.

The plans outlined by the University indicate that the college will be located in the area of campus between Dillon Gymnasium and Baker Rink, an area that is currently home to what is known as the "Pagoda" tennis courts. The planned site will take up 290,000 square feet with a spire that will reach 60-80 feet. The building will vary between two-five stories and will be built in the architectural style known as "collegiate gothic."

The college, which elicits the first calculated undergraduate population increase since the University became a co-educational institution in 1969, signifies a reluctant move for the University. Thomas H. Wright, Vice President and Secretary of the University noted that while the University does not ne- cessarily want to grow, it has to take certain measures for the nation's growing population and subsequent increases in eligible applicants for admission to the University.

"Princeton University is fundamentally anti-growth," Mr. Wright said in the University's opening statement to the board. However, he added that "the world is getting bigger and the University has to get incrementally larger."

University Trustees have acted on the recommendation of an internal University study known as the Wythes Committee Report. The study, which began in 2000, set out to find ways for the University to attract a more varied student body to ensure a continued variety in the applicant pool and a fuller representation of the country's demographic.

After reviewing the data, the committee recommended that the University construct necessary residential facilities so the student increase could be phased in over a four-year period.

The issue of physical construction has posed a unique problem. The concept site plan submitted to the board outlines plans that put approximately 78 percent of the site in Princeton Borough and the remaining percentage of the site in the Township. Borough ordinance dictates that the University can build without petitioning and getting approvals from the Regional Planning Board if campus construction occurs more than 150 feet from a public throughway. The Township, where approximately 22 percent of the site is located, does not follow the same criteria and requires planning board approval. The University has requested that, because of its size, the Township portion of the project be viewed as minor site plan construction. Such a classification would allow the project to go directly to the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB), for final approval and not return to the planning board for further consideration. The minor site plan classification, if accepted by SPRAB, would allow the University to begin construction this fall.

Princeton Township planning board delegate and Deputy Mayor of Princeton Township Bill Enslin raised the issue of overcrowding on the main campus.

"That's pretty crowded," Mr. Enslin said before raising the option of the University constructing on its land across the canal in West Windsor.

"I think it's time to talk about how much more the University should be putting into the existing areas," he said.

Mr. Wright contended that Whitman College would, in fact, increase mobility and create more open space on campus. With three large courtyards and bicycle paths providing passable routes through the complex, keeping the facility on the main campus would improve the logistic layout of the area, while keeping students near classrooms and other facilities.

After several inquiries from the board regarding parking, housing, and density, planning board Chairperson Victoria Bergman asked the University to address the town's on-going concern.

"Traffic issues keep bubbling up," she said.

Mr. Wright cited the University's policy that keeps freshmen from bringing cars on campus, and that there is ample parking in the University's existing parking facilities to accommodate the increase in population.

Borough Mayor Marvin Reed praised the University for the current layout of Whitman College. He mentioned earlier designs that placed the college on the current site of the Springfield golf course.

"This is a far superior design and location than we started with," Mayor Reed said. He went on to commend the University for deci- ding against the westward expansion and keeping the campus compact. Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand backed Mayor Reed's assertions for the current layout of Whitman College.

Jon Hlafter, the University's director of physical planning, further addressed the parking issue by pointing out that Lot 21, east of Jadwin Gym could be used to supply parking for the planned 40-50 maintenance staff members required for the site. He said that a shuttle service could be established in getting people across Washington Road and to and from the main campus.

"Employee parking can and will be handled," Mr. Hlafter said.

Township Engineer Robert Kiser noted that the University has offered up to $100,000 for construction along Alexander Road. The University pledged this money for use of re-surfacing and other safety improvements along the corridor. This contribution will help with safety-improvement plans that have already been put in motion by Mr. Kiser's office.

While the proposed amendment to minor site plan was not officially voted on, board members seemed largely pleased with the University's current construction plans. Township representatives of the board did not take issue with the downgrading classification. The University will appear before SPRAB for a scheduled October 15 meeting. The panel can either accept the proposal for an amended classification, allowing the University to begin construction, or it can refer the plans back to the planning board for further review.

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