January 15, 2014

“State of the Art” Hospital Demolition Looming

Princeton Council was given a status report Monday night on preparations to demolish the former Princeton hospital site on Witherspoon Street. At the meeting, which drew several neighborhood residents and a group of labor union representatives concerned about safety, a representative from the developer under contract to build a rental complex at the site said a meeting with residents will be scheduled soon.

AvalonBay, the developer, has yet to close on the property. “Hopefully, that will happen this month,” said Jon Vogel, the company’s vice president for development. “We will have a neighborhood meeting after the demolition plan is approved so people understand what will happen over the next few months.”

Mr. Vogel turned the microphone over to John Mucha of Yannuzi Wrecking and Recycling Corporation of Hillsborough, the company that will handle the demolition. Mr. Yanuzzi told Council members that work will begin with the removal of underground tanks and other items, as well as asbestos, which will be removed by a separate company.

The demolition will start on the Harris Road side of the site, and continue across the property. The eight-story hospital building will be taken down by a 95-foot-high hydraulic excavator, requiring the portion of Witherspoon Street in front to be closed for one day.

“There is no wrecking ball involved,” Mr. Mucha assured Council member Jenny Crumiller when she asked how the demolition would be done. “This is state of the art wetting technology,” he said, explaining that the building’s walls will be taken down in pieces.

Most materials will be recycled at Yanuzzi’s licensed facility in Hillsborough. Masonry will be crushed, with some used as backfill. Dust will be monitored throughout the project, and the data will be turned over to AvalonBay, which in turn will turn it over to Princeton’s construction department before the site is graded, Mr. Mucha said.

Council members Lance Liverman and Jo Butler questioned Mr. Mucha about noise levels. “Will they do the masonry crushing on site? That’s really noisy,” Ms. Butler said. After questioning Mr. Mucha about the routes the trucks carrying the materials will take out of town, Council president Bernie Miller suggested that the center of Princeton be avoided.

Mr. Vogel estimated that the demolition will begin in the spring and take a few months to complete. Crews will work weekdays starting at 8 a.m., and on weekends only if necessary.

The AvalonBay project will bring 280 rental units to the former hospital site. Fifty-six units are to be designated affordable, with 13 devoted to those of very low income. The developer’s first plan for the site was turned down by the municipality’s Planning Board, but a revised plan was approved last year. Instead of one large structure, the complex will be divided into five buildings, with a park at the corner of Witherspoon and Franklin streets.

At Monday’s meeting, resident Sam Bunting told Council members that he hopes the park will be transferred to the municipality. “As long as it remains a private park, there is always the chance that it could be locked away from citizens,” he said. “It should be a fully public park, as opposed to a private park.”

Mayor Liz Lempert said that matter could be included in discussion at the Council’s next meeting January 27, when a work session on the developer’s agreement is likely to be scheduled.