January 23, 2013

Former Boychoir Building to House New Math and Science High School

The American Boychoir School has just moved to the former St. Joseph’s Seminary site on Mapleton Road but its old home at 19 Lambert Drive, just off Rosedale Road, will not remain vacant for long.

Last Tuesday, January 15, The Bairong Education Foundation (BEF) closed on the purchase of the campus and plans for a new Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS) are underway.

The school will serve 9th through 12th grades and may at some future date include 7th grade. It will focus on a curriculum of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and hopes to attract some students from its sister school in Beijing (The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China) and others from around the globe.

The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China is reported to be a very selective public school with a student body of some 4,000. Its other sister schools are the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts and the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

Interviewed by telephone Monday, Denise Benou Stires, chief operating officer of BEF and former executive vice president and chief marketing officer of the NASDAQ stock market, said that the new school will be a private international coeducational boarding school with some day students as well. It is hoped that it will open in the Fall of 2014, although the school is exploring the possibility of a pilot program this Fall with about 50 ninth grade students and/or 40 to 50 international high school graduates who would use the campus for a one year bridge program before applying to U.S. universities. The school plans to have a total enrollment of 300, starting with ninth grade and adding one grade at a time.

“Opening in 2014 gives us time to renovate and restore the building,” said Ms. Stires. “The school has been in the planning stages for some time,” she said. ”We love the existing building and we plan to love it more.”

The Lambert Drive site was found after a state-wide search. “Princeton is ideal for a school of this kind,” said Ms. Stires. “In China, Princeton represents excellence in education.” The campus will serve the needs of faculty and student housing.

Faculty are being hired and the Princeton architectural firm of J. Robert Hillier, FAIA, a Town Topics shareholder, has been asked to create a master plan. “We are also designing the renovations to two of the buildings on the existing campus,” commented Mr. Hillier, the firm’s principal. “The main house renovations are being designed by Jie Zhao from Boston and we are assisting her with that project and we hope to be designing the new buildings on the campus once the Master Plan has been approved.”

Since the boarding school plans to have an enrollment greater than the Boychoir School, new buildings will be added to the approximately 17.5 acre tract that was once the private estate of pharmaceutical businessman Gerard Lambert. The American Boychoir School, which had been there since 1950, joined the French American School of Princeton and the Wilberforce School to form the Princeton Center for Arts & Education.

“No existing buildings will be torn down and the grounds will be restored to their original beauty,” said Mr. Hillier.

“Bob Hillier has been working with us to look at the campus and make modifications to suit the school’s needs that are somewhat different from those of the American Boychoir School. With Bob’s background and the work he did for the Peddie School and Lawrenceville School, we couldn’t be in better hands,” said Ms. Stires.

Mr, Hillier’s firm has worked on both Lawrenceville and Peddie campuses for over 30 years and has designed every major building built on the Peddie campus since 1980 including, most recently, the science building and the new natatorium.

Before purchasing the campus, representatives from the school and from the architects met with local residents in the neighborhood to present their concept for the new school, which will seek approval from the Planning Board.

According to Ms. Stires, the school is operated by two separate non-profits: The Bairong Education Foundation, which purchased the campus for $5.9 million, and The Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science. Bairong Jiang, chairman of Bairong Investment Holdings Group, is financially supporting the foundation, said Ms. Stires. Headquartered in Beijing, the company operates in the areas of real estate development and property management throughout China with a particular emphasis on retail shopping malls. Other interests include chemical products, logistics, and highway construction.

The head of the school, which is supported by the philanthropist Jiang Bairong, is Juliana Ka. “Juliana has developed schools in China and has the perfect background to lead this initiative,” says Ms. Stires.