July 15, 2015

Library Renovation, Police Strategic Plan Among Council’s Topics

Reports on plans to renovate part of the Princeton Public Library and monitor tour buses on Nassau Street were the focus of a meeting of Princeton Council Monday night. The governing body also heard from Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter and a member of the consulting firm The Rodgers Group about a recently completed strategic plan that will serve as “a roadmap for us to the future,” Mr. Sutter told Council.

The Princeton Police Department’s 2015-18 Strategic Plan was designed as a flexible document to help guide the force, which merged the former Borough and Township departments after consolidation of the town, for three years. “For me, it’s an absolute blessing,” Mr. Sutter told Council. “It gives us all the tools we need to move forward.” Praising the Rodgers Group’s “professionalism and expertise,” he added, “I soaked up as much as I possibly could.”

The plan identifies traffic safety and community engagement as its main issues. Concerns over information technology (IT) and accountability systems are also key, said Philip Coyne, who presented the report. Among the study’s recommended actions are that the department have a fully dedicated IT specialist, hire a public information officer, remove all crossing guard hiring, scheduling and supervision responsibilities from the Traffic Unit, research and implement body cameras, and have Traffic Unit personnel working alternate shifts aligned with data on accidents and citizen complaints.

“This is not about policy,” Mayor Liz Lempert said in a press conference earlier in the day. “It’s more of an operational document.” She added that Council will not need to vote on the plan. Mr. Sutter said conclusions of the plan were the result of focus groups and research into the community. “This is a very pro-active approach to policing,” he said. “This is the community telling us what they need and us addressing it.”

In his monthly report to Council, Mr. Sutter said that the swatting incidents, in which threats were called into local schools and other buildings over the past few months, have lessened. “There is a lull. But that doesn’t mean they’ve fallen off our radar,” he said, adding that investigation into the incidents is still active.

Tour Buses

Handling Princeton’s influx of tour buses has been a topic of debate in recent months. The town’s administrator Marc Dashield reported to Council that an enforcement plan is now in place. For the next three weeks, a campaign to educate the operators of tour companies and the drivers of buses about where to park while their passengers are in town will be underway.

Buses will use the existing NJ Transit bus stops to discharge and pick up passengers, and park on Alexander Street across from the Dinky train station instead of taking up multiple spaces on Nassau Street. One parking enforcement officer from the local police department will be dedicated to this, with help from two others, Mr. Dashield said. “We will evaluate this after three weeks and then begin real enforcement,” he said, explaining that those tour bus operators who do not abide by the plan after the initial three-week period will be fined.

Mr. Sutter asked that any citizens who see buses in the wrong place, in active violation of the plan, should call the department’s non-emergency line to report it. “I’m very confident we can address this. We have already been sending out officers,” he said. Mr. Dashield said he expects to have a report on the situation at a future Council meeting, possibly in October.

Library Renovation

The Princeton Public Library’s outgoing Executive Director Leslie Burger told Council that a capital campaign, “2 Reimagine,” is underway to bring the much-loved community resource up to speed with current technology and library usage trends. “This has been predicated by the massive changes that have taken place in the last 10 to 12 years in how people use the library,” she said.

Since the library expanded and reopened in 2004, the digital publishing revolution has transformed the way information is disseminated. “You may recall what reference books were like in the past,” she said, eliciting a chuckle from Council members. “We still answer 75,000 queries a year, but we do it differently,” she added. “Content is up to the minute.”

Library administration assessed the situation two and a half years ago and realized that the digitization of information allows for more open space. Ms. Burger said she hears constantly from patrons who want more room to sit, meet, and have quiet study. “For us to remain relevant, it’s time for some reinvestment,” she said.

Some $3 million is needed to “turn the second floor inside out,” she said. Books would be moved to the outside of the space, with increased seating and small “collaboration rooms” in the center. A dedicated space for print and digital news media, a discovery center for digital exploration, a business center, technology lounge, and more robust wireless network are all mentioned in a brochure for the plan.

The project is to be financed with private donations, and a lead donor has provided a $750,000 challenge grant of which the library is $300,000 shy of matching. About $1.8 million has been raised so far. Ms. Burger said.

Furniture, fixtures, and the services of a library design firm would incur more costs, and Ms. Burger asked Council to consider providing a bridge loan against pledges that have been made to cover expenses before the pledges come in. This method was used when the library was expanded, and the loan from the town was quickly repaid, she reminded the governing body.

As part of the project,no books would be thrown out, she emphasized — just rearranged. On a “purely selfish note,” she said, “I would like to get as much of the details done and underway before I leave in January. We’re pretty excited about what this says about keeping the library relevant for the next generation. What we’ll be creating is a 21st century experience for everybody.”