Council Hears Update on Rescue Squad Project For New Headquarters at Old Public Works Site
By Anne Levin
If all goes according to plan, Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad (PFARS) could be installed in roomy, new headquarters by September, 2019. Mark Freda, president of the 77-year-old nonprofit, gave an update on the long-awaited project at a meeting of Princeton Council on Monday evening.
Enough of the $7.8 million needed to finance the building, which will be located on the site of the former Princeton Township Public Works facility bordered by Valley Road, Witherspoon Street, Route 206, and Cherry Hill Road, has been pledged to start construction, Mr. Freda said. But the plan still needs to go before the town’s zoning and planning boards before full approval is given.
It was over a decade ago that PFARS began planning for a new headquarters to replace the overcrowded building on Harrison Street it has occupied since 1963. The squad long ago became too small for the vehicles and equipment it uses to respond to some 3,000 calls a year for emergency medical and rescue services. “It is very outdated and totally insufficient to meet the needs of the squad, and therefore the needs of the community,” Mr. Freda said.
PFARS is not a municipal agency, though it works hand-in-hand with Princeton Police and Fire Departments. Its annual budget of $1.5 million is raised through volunteer EMT services, insurance reimbursement, and individual contributions.
In 2014, Council approved a proposal to form a partnership with PFARS in which the town would get the existing building plus two Cape Cod-style houses the squad owns just behind it, in return for a long-term land lease for the new facility. Princeton owns the properties. At a press conference earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert said there is no plan yet for what the town will do with the properties. Using them for affordable housing is an option, as is selling them, she said.
A roadway improvement plan is part of the project. This involves removal of Terhune Road’s access to Route 206; creating three lanes of traffic on Witherspoon Street and Mount Lucas Road; and two traffic signals providing access to Route 206. One would be a full signal, at Cherry Hill Road; the other an emergency signal at Valley Road. Two of these would be funded by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, and the third is to be funded by PFARS.
The new building will have ample bays for PFARS’s 10 emergency vehicles, room for training, storage, decontamination, sleeping quarters, and educational needs. Showing a slide of how the new headquarters might look, Mr. Freda said, “We intend to have a very tasteful building, but one that is cost effective.”
PFARS is putting in an application with the town’s zoning board this week, Mr. Freda said. The project is targeted to break ground next April, and the goal for completing construction is August, 2019.