Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 38
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
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Fields Center and Community House Undergo “Remarkable Transformation”

Dilshanie Perera

The Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and Community House opened for the academic year in their new space with a public celebration featuring remarks by Field Center Director Makeba Clay, Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, and Vice President for Campus Life Janet Dickerson.

Part of the Fields Center’s mission is to “act as a catalyst for exploring critical issues on campus by initiating programs focused on race, class, gender, social justice, civic engagement, sexual orientation, and the historical and current realities that impact the understanding of these topics.”

The new space at 58 Prospect Avenue is sure to facilitate that process, as the restored Elm Club building boasts 18,800-square-feet for use as program, seminar, meeting, gallery, library, and performance space. The 5,000-square-foot contemporary addition, which connects to the building, will likely see large events, with Ms. Clay envisioning “banquets, lectures, cultural events, and dance performances.”

“This is a housewarming for us,” Ms. Clay announced at the opening celebration, adding that they had been working toward this goal for the past three years. “We are moving into new chapters of both of our histories,” she said of the Fields Center and Community House.

Previously, student volunteers at Community House had to use off-site locations for tutoring, but the new home affords the opportunity to expand programs within the space.

The mission of the organization, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is to close the minority achievement gap by promoting literacy and academic skills in the Borough and the Township. The organization plans to recruit 100 university student volunteers to work with 30 middle school and 30 high school students.

Ms. Tilghman pointed out the “remarkable transformation in the space” with the restoration of the Elm Club building by Ann Beha Architects of Boston.

In a media tour that preceded the event, Ms. Beha explained that they maintained many of the historic features of the 19th century building, and envisioned that community events could be hosted inside, as well as out on the lawn.

Suggesting that the contemporary addition looks toward the future, Ms. Beha said that it was a purposeful design choice to have the two buildings connected by a transparent hallway. “We wanted to make this accessible and visible.”

Additionally, she reported that many of the building materials are LEED-certified or eligible, including a high recycled fiber content in the carpets.

The previous location of the Fields Center was across the street on Olden Avenue in a building behind a brick wall. Ms. Dickerson said that when she arrived on campus in 2000, students told her that they saw the wall as an unintentional barrier. Putting together a juried architecture contest, the students decided to reimagine the structures along Prospect Avenue, “and in a few short years we are dedicating this building,” she remarked.

The new visibility “reminds students of opportunities for service, and provides a place to celebrate diversity,” Ms. Tilghman said.

Senior Dora Chua, who is also the program coordinator for the University’s mentoring program, suggested that the building “represents a sense of rejuvenation” and “is in stark contrast to the old one.”

Envisioning many relationships forming in the new location, Ms. Chua noted that “the most interesting ideas come from those kinds of collaborations.”

“I am proud to be part of a community that values diversity and communication,” she said.

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