June 26, 2013

Does Princeton Need a Vibrant Community Center For Meetings, Social Gatherings, Coffee, Concerts?

To the Editor:

What do you think?

Does Princeton need inexpensive public space for meetings, social gatherings, celebrations, exhibitions, concerts, and creative events? Or a black box theater or two — the kind of space that Off Broadway has used for decades for theatrical productions? Maybe there would be a resident dance troupe. How about a café with good coffee, and run by a nonprofit that employs local servers? And below-market office space where nonprofit local organizations can share space and equipment? It wouldn’t have to be a fancy building. Or even a new building.

The Valley Road School (VRS) offers itself as a community center, but so far, the town has not wanted it. Why not?

Is the structure sound? OK, there’s a crack in the rear wall, the paint is peeling, the roof and windows need replacing: the Township and the School Board have neglected the building for 40 years. But the University saved — and prominently uses — the old Nassau Street School near Thomas Sweet’s. It, too, was built by the town’s famed Italian masons: solid basic and beautiful workmanship. The Witherspoon School, now the Waxwood, on Quarry Street, has become an upscale apartment house. These buildings were once fixer-uppers. Now they are productive community anchors.

But is VRS salvageable? The VRS Association has petitions out to get the question on the ballot, so we can find out once and for all. We want a minimum of 1000 signatures. This week, while I was tabling for the petition, a structural engineer signed on. He had inspected the building with a Planning Board member and found it sound and eminently salvageable, but another firm was hired for the final estimate.

Can we afford the cost of renovation? A solar installation on the roof would ultimately pay for the repairs needed there. And the Economic Development Authority is looking for grantees for up to $2,000,000 for community projects that provide jobs: what a boon it would be for local construction workers to restore VRS, and at no cost to taxpayers.

Does Princeton need a vibrant community center, where residents stop by to work together on community needs — youth groups, counselors, a tax service? What community doesn’t need such a center?

So help the community: sign the petition that asks our government and yours to put the matter to a ballot. Better yet, take the sample ballot page from Town Topics two weeks ago and pass it around to friends and family before sending it in. Every vote really does count. Tell government to review this citizen initiative responsibly and publicly. Ask our Council: if we find the money, will they let us save Valley Road School?

Mary Clurman

Harris Road