A report on the Princeton Public Schools that sparked criticism from Republican mayoral nominee Richard Woodbridge concerning the fate of the Valley Road School building was among the topics at last week’s meeting of Princeton Borough Council. Also part of the discussion were resolutions regarding a right-of-way use agreement along the Dinky corridor, a transit study and traffic study, and a pending Assembly bill that would exempt New Jersey’s private colleges and universities from municipal land use oversight.
Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Judy Wilson told Council members that Princeton High School was opening on September 4 with a record high enrollment of 1,444 students, 375 of whom are freshmen. The numbers are also up, from 35 to about 55, for pre-kindergarten students.
“We thought 340 was our peak last year, and only seven years ago we had 300,” Ms. Wilson said of the high school enrollment. The school district is opening two additional sections of pre-kindergarten to accommodate the growth. While enrollment is down at Riverside Elementary School, it has risen at Johnson Park Elementary School, she added. Princeton University’s shuffling of its faculty housing is the reason for the enrollment figures at the elementary schools, she said. The jump at the high school and Pre-K is due to the fact that more people are moving to Princeton. “There are more Institute families,” Ms. Wilson said, referring to the Institute for Advanced Study. “Children are leaving private schools because of the economy. But there is no single reason.”
Ms. Wilson was asked whether the school board had made progress on deciding the fate of the Valley Road School building. She replied that the Board’s commitment was to not address the issue until after consolidation goes into effect in January. She then left to attend a Board of Education meeting, and Mr. Woodbridge approached the microphone to take issue with comments Ms. Wilson made in a Town Topics story (“New Name, New Look, New Website; Princeton Public Schools Ready to Go” ; August 22) saying that the building was “well maintained.”
“I’m rather baffled by the superintendent’s comments about the state of the school,” said Mr. Woodbridge, who went to the building on July 29 to take pictures. “It’s in terrible shape. I would like to request that the Board do at least minimal maintenance. The maintenance is terrible and I would give it an ‘F.’” Mr. Woodbridge added that if the $10.9 million public bond referendum to be voted on by citizens on September 24 passed “before January 1, there won’t be any money for it.” [the Valley Road building].
In a statement, School Board President Tim Quinn responded yesterday, “The current bond referendum is strictly for facilities being used for the education of our students. Plans for projects covered by the referendum have been approved by the state Department of Education, and these plans did not include the Witherspoon portion of the Valley Road School, which has not been an instructional space for several decades. While the board has not made a final decision on the future of the Witherspoon portion of the Valley Road Building, we have stated unequivocally that we are not willing to commit public funds to the maintenance of buildings not being used for the education of our students.”
In other discussions related to education, Borough Mayor Yina Moore reported that she and Hoboken Mayor Don Zimmer were drafting a letter opposing the bill that the state Legislature is considering that would allow universities and colleges to bypass municipal zoning codes. Public universities are already exempt. The Senate passed its version of the bill last June, and the Assembly’s version is still with the Higher Education Committee.
Borough Council has already passed a resolution opposing the bill, and has encouraged the public to sign a petition against the measure. Ms. Moore said she hoped the Township would join in signing the letter. Councilman Roger Martindell suggested joining with Township Committee and possibly the Regional Planning Board in opposition to the bill, as well as asking area colleges and universities to formally express their positions on the issue.
A resolution to approve a shared services agreement with Princeton Township for a transit study from URS Corporation was tabled by the Council following extensive discussion. Council will ask URS to attend a future meeting so that they and the public can be better informed about the transit study, which was part of the 2011 Memorandum of Understanding between the governing bodies and Princeton University regarding the University’s proposed Arts and Transit neighborhood. Princeton Township has already approved the resolution for the study.
The Alexander Street/University Place Transit Task Force interviewed five transit consultants and recommended URS, which would charge $100,000. The task force also recommended AECOM of Newark to perform a traffic study, at $72,980. The traffic study would examine the developments at the former Merwick site currently under redevelopment, the former site of the University Medical Center at Princeton, Princeton University’s Hibben Magie site, Hulfish North at Palmer Square, and the redevelopment of the YM/YWCA, along with several intersections.