April 3, 2013

Valley Road School a Community Asset; Board Plan Lets Deterioration Continue

To the Editor:

Historic Valley Road School, the portion along Witherspoon Street, now faces a very uncertain future. Originating from a gift to the inhabitants of Princeton Township, it needs significant repair. Currently it contains two tenants, Corner House and Princeton Community TV, both of whom are slated to move to the old Borough Hall around the end of May. Princeton Community TV has done a yeomen’s job of mopping up roof leaks and maintaining life in the building. In fact, if the choice was theirs they would prefer to remain.

In its six-page resolution on the reuse of Valley Road School (VRS), the School Board listed six areas where it felt that the Valley Road School Community Center proposal fell short. The first was representative of the tone of the entire resolution: “VRS-ARC, by its proposal, demands that the Board bear responsibility for undertaking any and all zoning law changes necessary to allow the proposal to proceed.” All completely untrue. Still, based on conciliatory remarks from members of the School Board before and after passage of the resolution, we concluded that the School Board was tacitly telling us to move forward with getting our proposed zoning amendment adopted.

This proposed zoning amendment was prepared for the School Board’s review in 2011. If it were to be passed it would allow the building to be adaptively reused as a center for nonprofit organizations serving Princeton. The proposed amendment also contains parking requirements that we think we can meet of 1 parking space for each 400 square feet of usable space, assuming that we can count street parking. So last week we took the first steps toward formally proposing our zoning amendment for passage — only to receive a vehement objection from the School Board.

The Board says that it is looking for a solution. And they say that they are concerned that they might need additional classroom space some day in the future, which could be accommodated in the new center. Their CURRENT plan, however, is to board up the building, and with every rainstorm, let deterioration continue, something a private owner would find completely unacceptable. Remarkably in an $84 million budget, the Board can’t find even a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to patch a roof leak in a building for which they are the stewards.

The School Board says that they are worried about liabilities. They don’t seem to see the liabilities inherent in locking up the building and letting nature take its course. Even with a fence around it, it will be an eyesore and hazard — pools of water, mold, rodents, thieves, and kids tempted to explore. No doubt a deteriorating building also would have a negative impact on property values in the immediate area.

We still hope that the School Board will do the right thing and show its overall concern for the town’s well-being by allowing a citizen group to try to save the building. What does the Board have to lose?

Kip Cherry

President, VRS-ARC