July 21, 2015

shutterstock_57954124Today, July 21 until 5 p.m., Princeton’s cooling station at Witherspoon Hall’s Community Room will be open for those seeking a safe place to stay cool during the heat wave. Residents, especially senior citizens, are strongly advised to take advantage of these cooling stations if needed. Free water is accessible at the station, which is at 400 Witherspoon Street.

To stay safe and cool during heat advisories and warnings, follow these tips:

Stay indoors in air-conditioned spaces as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.

Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. more

July 15, 2015
NEW BUILD ON VALLEY ROAD: Situated on Valley Road, this new home comprises a main residential building (left) plus a garage with what looks to be a roomy apartment or studio space above. It sits on a lot flanked by more modest dwellings.(Photo by Linda Arntzenius)

NEW BUILD ON VALLEY ROAD: Situated on Valley Road, this new home comprises a main residential building (left) plus a garage with what looks to be a roomy apartment or studio space above. It sits on a lot flanked by more modest dwellings. (Photo by Linda Arntzenius)

To many Princeton residents it seems that no matter where you turn, an old house is being torn down to make way for a new – and usually much larger – residential structure. more

ALL HANDS ON DECK: Members of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew program celebrate after Princeton won the Rowe Cup team points title at the Eastern Sprints in early May. Earlier this month, all three men’s heavyweight crews competed at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. While none of the boats earned titles, they acquitted themselves well at the famed competition. The men’s first varsity and second varsity 8s were each in the final eight of the Ladies Challenge Cup while the third varsity eight made the quarterfinals of the Temple Challenge Cup.(Photo by Aleka Gürel)

ALL HANDS ON DECK: Members of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew program celebrate after Princeton won the Rowe Cup team points title at the Eastern Sprints in early May. Earlier this month, all three men’s heavyweight crews competed at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. While none of the boats earned titles, they acquitted themselves well at the famed competition. The men’s first varsity and second varsity 8s were each in the final eight of the Ladies Challenge Cup while the third varsity eight made the quarterfinals of the Temple Challenge Cup. (Photo by Aleka Gürel)

As three Princeton University men’s heavyweight crews prepared to compete in the Henley Royal Regatta in England, training went well on both sides of the Atlantic.

Prior to heading across the pond, Princeton got in some intense work on Lake Carnegie for two weeks in mid-June. more

Once Princeton University’s spring term ended last month, the annual exodus of students left the dormitories, dining halls, and classroom buildings empty – but not for long. Starting in early June, a different crop of pupils began arriving for a slew of summer programs that have kept the campus humming with activity. more

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. more

Is climate change funny? According to Joshua Halpern, it can be. Finding humor in our environmental crisis is perfectly acceptable, the Princeton native believes, especially if it helps people process the magnitude of the situation and take action for positive change. more

WARS OF WORDS: Eliza Doolittle (Bits Sola) has successfully discarded her lower class background and learned from Henry Higgins (Jake Robertson) how to speak and behave like a duchess, but where does that leave their relationship and her future? Princeton Summer Theater’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (1913) runs through July 19 at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.

WARS OF WORDS: Eliza Doolittle (Bits Sola) has successfully discarded her lower class background and learned from Henry Higgins (Jake Robertson) how to speak and behave like a duchess, but where does that leave their relationship and her future? Princeton Summer Theater’s production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” (1913) runs through July 19 at the Hamilton Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus.

There are reasons why Pygmalion has been the most popular and most famous of George Bernard Shaw’s plays. More than 100 years after its 1914 London premiere those reasons ring out loudly and clearly in Princeton Summer Theater’s (PST) striking production.

Shaw’s fiery, intelligent language, his rich sense of comedy and his irreverent and searing social commentary all sparkle in this play, and the top-flight PST ensemble of eight with a polished professional production crew under the direction of R.N. Sandberg make the most of this brilliant text.  more

HIGH TECH: Aaron Shavel unloads the ball in action for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) men’s lacrosse team. Shavel, a former Princeton Day School standout, wrapped up his RPI career this spring by tallying 12 goals and three assists to help the Engineers go 10-5.(Photo Courtesy of RPI Athletic Communications)

HIGH TECH: Aaron Shavel unloads the ball in action for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) men’s lacrosse team. Shavel, a former Princeton Day School standout, wrapped up his RPI career this spring by tallying 12 goals and three assists to help the Engineers go 10-5. (Photo Courtesy of RPI Athletic Communications)

During his first two seasons with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute men’s lacrosse team, Aaron Shavel struggled to find a rhythm at the college level.

“The game is a lot faster and the players are a lot bigger,” said Shavel, a former Princeton Day School star attacker.

“I had to be a lot quicker and more decisive, the big thing was the speed of everything. You have to refine your game. It took a while for me to grow into it; I was making a lot of turnovers.”

A coaching decision early in Shavel’s junior year changed the game for him.

“At the end of fall ball, the coach (Jim Townsend) talked to me; he said I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time but thought I could still be an asset to the team,” said Shavel.

“He said he wanted to move me to midfield. I hadn’t played that since middle school but I said anything to help the team and get on the field.”

Adjusting well to his new role, Shavel helped trigger the team’s offense in 2014, scoring 24 points on 17 goals and seven assists.

“I went from a second or third line attacker to first line midfield,” said Shavel.

“It was better for my skill set; I was able to get my hands free. I also got to play on the man-up unit. When you are on attack, you are on the field the whole time. As a midfielder, you are on for 30 seconds and then off for two minutes. Being on the man-up got me one or two more runs. I was on low left; I had a comfort level there and it helped me get a rhythm.” more

ART THAT HEALS: Images such as this painting, titled “Indian Summer Bouquet,” will be among the works by local artist Joanne Augustine on view and for sale (with 20 percent of the proceeds benefiting the hospital) at University Medical Center of Princeton through November 8. The exhibition opens with a reception on Friday, July 31, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Art for Healing Gallery, in the concourse connecting UMCP to the Medical Arts Pavilion and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Community Health Center. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to www.princetonhcs.org/art by Friday, July 24. For more information, visit www.princetonhcs.org.

ART THAT HEALS: Images such as this painting, titled “Indian Summer Bouquet,” will be among the works by local artist Joanne Augustine on view and for sale (with 20 percent of the proceeds benefiting the hospital) at University Medical Center of Princeton through November 8. The exhibition opens with a reception on Friday, July 31, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Art for Healing Gallery, in the concourse connecting UMCP to the Medical Arts Pavilion and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Community Health Center. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to www.princetonhcs.org/art by Friday, July 24. For more information, visit www.princetonhcs.org.

The University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP) will host a wine-and-cheese reception on Friday, July 31, to mark the opening of an exhibition featuring work by local artist Joanne Augustine.  more

The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce will hold the annual Mid-Summer Marketing Showcase on Tuesday, July 21, from 4-7 p.m. on the green at Palmer Square. The showcase is free and open to the public, with the rain date set for the following day. more

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Members of the the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad  celebrate last Thursday after they edged Ocean Township 5-4 at Farmview Fields to win the Section 3 50/70 Intermediate tournament. It is the first-ever sectional crown won by the PLL program. The team will now go for a state title and faces West Deptford in the first round of the states on July 15 in the four-team competition being held at Winslow Township.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Members of the the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad celebrate last Thursday after they edged Ocean Township 5-4 at Farmview Fields to win the Section 3 50/70 Intermediate tournament. It is the first-ever sectional crown won by the PLL program. The team will now go for a state title and faces West Deptford in the first round of the states on July 15 in the four-team competition being held at Winslow Township. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having gone undefeated in tournament play this summer, the Princeton Little League (PLL) 50/70 Intermediate squad found itself trailing Ocean Township 4-2 in the fifth inning of the final round of the Section 3 tourney last Thursday.

But PLL star infielder Ben Petrone wasn’t overly concerned about the deficit. more

On July 7, at 2:04 p.m., a 28-year-old male from Hillsborough was charged with one count of theft by deception after an investigation revealed that as an employee of the Princeton University Store, he stole cash from the store register at various times during a 16 month period, totaling $26,000. Bail was set at $5,000.

 

book revThe peace of the heart is positive and invincible, demanding no conditions, requiring no protection. It just is.

—Henry Miller, from The Colossus of Maroussi

If nothing else, Greece’s last-ditch stand against austerity has led me to the poetry of George Seferis, given me a reason to reread Henry Miller’s Colossus of Maroussi (1941), and reminded me of three “it just is” evenings of peace on the Acropolis, each on the same day in the first week of August, all in the space of six years.

Miller writes of arriving in Greece on the eve of World War II: “I had entered a new realm as a free man … for the first time in my life I was happy with the full consciousness of being happy,” because “to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how … and still be happy … in the being and knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss, and if you have any sense you ought to kill yourself on the spot and be done with it.”

That’s vintage Henry Miller — never go halfway, take it to the rhetorical limit, damn the torpedoes! full speed ahead! If there’s any writer anywhere who embodies the antithesis of austerity it’s Henry Miller. And in Miller’s Colossus, Greece is “the antithesis of America”: “Economically it may seem unimportant [those were the days], but spiritually Greece is still the mother of nations, the fountain-head of wisdom and inspiration.” At the moment mother Athens is under siege. While the front page of Monday’s online edition of the New York Times says the European moneylenders have reached an agreement on the Greek debt crisis, the story comes with a photo worth a thousand words showing a street person holding an empty glass, crumpled as if dead on the pavement in front of an Alpha Bank ATM where people are waiting in line. more

CREATIVITY AT REST: Landscape artist and ideas man Peter Soderman (left) and wood and metal artist Greg Napolitan take time out to enjoy Princeton’s first Parklet in front of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street. Mr. Napolitan carved the two huge wooden benches in the parklet after being contacted by Mr. Soderman to participate in the tiny park that takes up two parking spots in front of the coffee shop. The project was a the result of a joint effort by the municipality, the Arts Council of Princeton, and several members of Princeton’s creative community.(Photo by L. Arntzenius)

CREATIVITY AT REST: Landscape artist and ideas man Peter Soderman (left) and wood and metal artist Greg Napolitan take time out to enjoy Princeton’s first Parklet in front of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street. Mr. Napolitan carved the two huge wooden benches in the parklet after being contacted by Mr. Soderman to participate in the tiny park that takes up two parking spots in front of the coffee shop. The project was a the result of a joint effort by the municipality, the Arts Council of Princeton, and several members of Princeton’s creative community. (Photo by L. Arntzenius)

Visitors to Princeton’s first “Parklet” located across two parking spots in front of Small World Coffee on Witherspoon Street are not only delighted by the concept and design of the space. They are intrigued by the hand behind two enormous wood benches, each of which has been carved from a single block of wood.  more

New Hope

The 2015 Sixth Annual New Hope Film Festival will take place from July 24 through August 2. The Festival is proud to be honoring Susan Seidelman with a Lifetime Achievement Award on Sunday, August 2 for her outstanding contributions to film. Seidelman is a writer, producer, director, and actor. Her best-known film is “Desperately Seeking Susan,” starring Madonna, which Seidelman directed. For more information, visit www.newhopefilmfestival.com.

Waiters Race

DON’T SPILL IT! The walkways at Princeton Shopping Center transformed into a race course last Thursday for the fifth annual Waiters’ Race, sponsored by the Princeton Merchants Association. After Mayor Liz Lempert kicked off the event, 70 men and women from 15 local restaurants balanced glasses of water and BAI beverage bottles minus their caps on trays as they raced around the courtyard.  more

Art 1This year is the 174th Anniversary of the John A. Roebling’s Sons company, once the largest employer in Trenton and a world leader in the construction of suspension bridges. To mark the occasion, The Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie will present an exhibition centered on the business that was owned by four generations of the Roebling family over 112 years.

The exhibition, which opens with a reception Friday, July 17, from 6 to 8 p.m., will be on view through December 6.

Clifford W. Zink, author of The Roebling Legacy, will speak and conduct a tour of the remaining buildings of the Roebling complex in Trenton at dates and times yet to be announced. For details, check the museum’s website, http://ellarslie.org.

John A, Roebling started making wire rope in 1841 in Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, and moved his factory to Trenton in 1848. His sons built the steel and wire mill and town of Roebling, in 1905. In 1953, the family sold the Trenton and Roebling plants to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). CF&I closed the Trenton plants in 1973 and the Roebling plant in 1974.

Mr. Roebling was the world’s foremost builder of suspension bridges in the 19th century and his bridges spanned major rivers when people said it couldn’t be done. His son Washington A. Roebling completed the most famous Roebling bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1883, and today it is an iconic national landmark. more

July 8, 2015

After long drawn-out negotiations between their union and the school district, Princeton’s teachers now have a new four-year contract.

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) reached an agreement that was unanimously approved by the Board last week.

The long-awaited contract is the result of talks between BOE and PREA that began in the fall of 2013 and the cause of much criticism directed at both sides from teachers, parents, students, and taxpayers since that time.

The contract is retroactive to last July 1, when teachers had been working under the terms of an expired contract. It will expire June 30, 2018.

Under the terms of the new contract, teachers will receive a salary increase of 2.66 percent for 2014-15; 2.67 percent for 2015-16; 2.50 percent for 2016-17; and 2.63 percent for 2017-18.

According to district officials, longevity pay will be eliminated in year four of the new contract and will be incorporated into a new step system going forward.

The new contract includes increases in the stipends that teachers receive for extracurricular activities such as coaching or advising student clubs. In this case, however, the increase is not retroactive for the 2014-15 school year. The increase for year two is 2.5 percent. For years three and four, the increase is 2.25 percent.

Under the new agreement, teachers will continue to make health care contributions at the tier 4 level under Chapter 78 of New Jersey state law.

The interpretation of Chapter 78 had been a bone of contention between the two parties and the inclusion of such health care contributions at the tier 4 level was one which the teachers’ union had opposed, even after sessions with a state-appointed mediator brought in to bring the two sides to a resolution.

The new contract holds teachers to two evening parent-teacher conferences a year and offers an additional staff development day a year.

In addition, teachers who subscribe to the district’s health care benefits program will receive annual health care stipends for years two, three and four of the contract.

The agreement came just as the two sides were about to enter the expensive arbitration stage of the bargaining process known as “fact-finding,” which could have cost between $1,600 and $2,500 per day for a state appointed fact-finder. The two sides would have shared this cost.

In recent weeks, with the approach of the end of the school year, both sides met face-to-face to thrash out a deal. Hopes rose after two marathon negotiating sessions on June 2 and June 10, the first lasting 18 hours and the second 12 hours. After the second meeting, BOE President Andrea Spalla said that both parties were working to “close the remaining differences between the two sides.”

Asked Monday what had clinched the deal, BOE member Patrick Sullivan responded that “Nothing in particular ‘clinched the deal’ except many hours of listening to each other and lots of hard work. The Board’s only goal has always been to come to an agreement that is fair to our teachers and financially sustainable for our district and our children. We are grateful that the PREA worked with us to come to such a conclusion.”

Compared to earlier BOE meetings, last week’s presentation failed to draw a large audience of teachers and parents.

Princeton Council held a closed session Monday to discuss the lawsuit challenging Princeton University’s tax exempt status.

The municipality is named as a defendant in the suit, brought by public interest lawyer Bruce I. Afran in 2011 on behalf of local residents Kenneth Fields, Mary Ellen Marino, and Joseph and Kathryn King.

The suit takes issue with the tax-exempt status of University properties, arguing that they are being used for commercial functions; it challenges the University’s status as a tax exempt non-profit organization. The impetus for the suit came after a 2010 property tax reevaluation in Princeton, which resulted in increases in assessed values and therefore in property tax payments.

Princeton University is the town’s largest taxpayer and the lawsuit, which has been likened to David taking on Goliath, could have major implications for home-owners. It could potentially reduce their property taxes, which would be a boon to residents of modest or fixed incomes.

According to the University’s website, its 2014 tax payments comprise less than one percent of its 2013-14 operating budget, which was $1.582 billion.

In lieu of paying taxes to the municipality on all of its properties, the University contributes a yearly payment or PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) and makes certain properties eligible for taxation. In 2014, it paid $8.5 million in property taxes and $2.75 million in PILOT payments. For 2015 the University will make $2,860,000 in PILOT payments to Princeton as part of a seven-year agreement with the municipality that calls for four percent annual increases.

According to the Princeton Tax Assessor’s office, the University owns 1,035 acres of land in Princeton with a total estimated valuation of $1.79 billion. Some 27.6 percent of this valuation is taxable, the remainder is exempt from property taxes.

Before moving into closed session Monday, the Council looked for comments from members of the public.

But only one person from the community, Dale Meade, had turned up to speak to the Council represented by President Bernie Miller and members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, and Patrick Simon. Lance Liverman had said he would be along later.

Town Administrator Marc Dashield was also a participant in the discussion as was attorney Harry Haushalter. According to his website, Mr. Haushalter’s special areas of expertise include New Jersey State taxes, local property taxation, tax litigation, and property tax abatement.

On Monday, Ms. Butler arrived clutching a June 1 cover story in a local news publication with a photograph of attorney Mr. Afran on the cover and posing the question “Bruce Afran: constitutional crusader, or skunk at the garden party?”

The article by Vincent Xu points out that Mr. Afran has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the town of Princeton.

The article goes on to describe Mr. Afran as a “public interest lawyer devoted to civil liberties” for his work on behalf of Save the Dinky citizen group and the Princeton Battlefield Society.

Mr. Meade, a 43-year resident of Princeton, addressed the members of the Council, to whom he is no stranger, having previously spoken out on the issue of property taxes, in particular, the ways in which they are assessed and the degree of oversight the municipality has or should have with respect to this process.

“I am an advocate of strict compliance with New Jersey statutes and IRS regulations,” began Mr. Meade, pointing out that he was once a member of the Princeton Fair Tax Revaluation Group. “The municipality should be neutral with respect to this topic,” he said. “It should not take an advocacy position but rather comply with existing statutes and regulations. What I think is missing in the area of property taxes is independent oversight. The tax assessor is paid by the municipality but the Council is not supposed to tell him how to do his job. I feel that they should maintain that position and look at both sides of the issue and not take a position.”

Mr. Meade went on to advise the Council to be “squeaky clean” on conflicts of interest. “Anyone with a connection to Princeton University should not participate in this discussion; not only should they not vote, they should not participate at all.”

In response, Ms. Butler pointed out that Mayor Liz Lempert and Council Member Heather Howard had been recused. Ms. Howard is employed by the University, as is Ms. Lempert’s husband.

After his brief comments to the Council, Mr. Meade said that he had been prompted to speak in the hopes of forcing a clarification of what the municipality’s responsibility is regarding property tax assessments.

In February, tax court Judge Vito L. Bianco denied the University’s request to have the lawsuit challenging its tax exempt status thrown out.

In April, a state appeals court declined to hear the University’s appeal of Judge Bianco’s ruling.

At that time, Mr. Afran commented: “The issue is not whether the taxpayer will win but how much of the University’s tax exempt status will remain if this goes to trial.” He estimated that if the entire University campus were valued for tax purposes, the average Princeton taxpayer could potentially see a reduction of their tax bill of between 30 and 50 percent. He described contemporary universities as “hedge funds masquerading as educational non-profits.”

The challenge to the University’s property tax exempt status will be tried in New Jersey tax court, possibly in the early part of 2016.

Thanks to an acquisition announced last week by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), Princeton Battlefield State Park is 4.6 acres larger. The added land fronts Stockton Street and directly abuts the main battlefield site. Its addition raises the size of the park to 80 acres.

Purchased from the D’Ambrisi family last April, the property is said to have been key to tactical maneuvers during the Battle of Princeton, fought on January 3, 1777 a week after George Washington’s victory over Hessian troops in Trenton. It consists of slightly rolling land and a series of connected ponds and streams that drain to the Stony Brook.

According to Kip Cherry, first vice president of the non-profit Princeton Battlefield Society, the property was critical to the famous battle. Just prior to the first phase, two British units stood on the ridge of the property, behind the colonnade that now stands at the site. “Understanding these stories creates important insight into the battle and into the spirit and principles on which the nation was founded,” Ms. Cherry said in a statement from the DEP.

Partners involved in preserving the parcel include the DEP’s Green Acres Program, the New Jersey State Park Service, Mercer County, the municipality of Princeton, the Princeton Battlefield Society, and the Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS). The total purchase was $850,000. The Green Acres Program contributed $450,000 and the county gave $200,000, also providing FOPOS a $100,000 matching grant available to non-profit groups.

The municipality of Princeton agreed to take on the cost of repairing the dam on the property and demolishing the house as its contribution to the preservation effort.

“Figuring out the details about demolition responsibilities and other issues such as an existing driveway easement was not easy,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “Thanks to the cooperation of all the partners, and the great work done by our engineering department, we were able to work these things out. In fact, the dam repairs and house demolition were already complete as of the transfer of the property to the State to add to the park.”

The Battlefield Society plans to use National Park Service grants to do an archaeological survey in cooperation with the State Park Service. It has been suggested that American and British soldiers are buried at the site.

“We feel a deep sense of honor in being able to add this land to one of the most important historic sites in the United States, especially as we get ready to celebrate Independence Day weekend,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said when announcing the purchase on July 1. “This acquisition shows the true power of innovative partnerships and the spirit of teamwork protecting places that are special to the people of New Jersey.”

Future plans for recreational use of the park include extending the bike path that starts at Mercer Street to Stockton Street, and possibly connecting the larger system of trails along the Stony Brook and elsewhere in Princeton.

“We always like to help add to existing parks, and this purchase will increase the public’s abilities to access and use one of the most important and beloved parks in Mercer County,” said County Executive Brian Hughes.

July 1, 2015

After well over a year of negotiations, the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and the teachers’s union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) issued a statement Thursday announcing a “Memorandum of Agreement for a successor contract.”

Today, July 1, marks the end of a year in which teachers in Princeton Public Schools have worked under the terms of an expired 2011-2014 contract. In spite of lengthy negotiations that began as early as fall 2013, their union and the Board failed to come up with a new contract.

Talks dragged on as both sides became entrenched over their respective positions on salaries and health benefits. A major stumbling block was conflicting interpretations of the State of New Jersey’s Chapter 78.

Even sessions with a state-appointed mediator failed to move the parties closer.

It looked as though the next step would be non-binding arbitration for which an independent “fact finder” would be called in at a cost of between $1,600 and $2,500 per day, to be split between the BOE and the PREA.

Spurred by this, both sides moved to meet face-to-face in order to thrash out a deal before the close of the school year. Hopes rose after two marathon negotiating sessions on June 2 and June 10, the first lasting 18 hours and the second, 12 hours. After the second meeting, BOE President Andrea Spalla said that both parties were working to “close the remaining differences between the two sides.”

The above-mentioned statement from Ms. Spalla together with PREA President Joanne Ryan, reads: “We are pleased to inform the Princeton community that the negotiating teams of the PREA and the Board of Education for the Princeton Public Schools have signed a Memorandum of Agreement for a successor contract. Further details of the new contract will be published
once the PREA membership
and the Board of Education have voted to approve the new agreement. We are eager to move forward together to provide the very best educational experiences for our community’s children. Both the PREA and the Board of Education are grateful for the patience and support of the entire Princeton community and we look forward to continuing to serve you.”

In May, after eight weeks of negotiations, the District reached an agreement with the Princeton Regional Educational Support Staff Association (PRESSA), representing support staff.

Also in May, after six weeks of negotiations, an agreement was reached with the Princeton Administrators’ Association (PAA), representing principals, assistant principals and supervisors, but not central office administrators.

The new contract with administrators gave them annual increases for the next three years of approximately 2.39 percent, 2.38 percent, and 2.37 percent. Administrators agreed that contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for  in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan and the option of a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.

The new contract with PRESSA gave an annual base salary increase of 2.5 percent for each of the next three years. The support staff union agreed that employees’ contributions to their healthcare premiums would remain at the highest “Tier 4” levels set forth in the state law known as Chapter 78. The union agreed to several cost-saving measures in their healthcare benefits package, including the elimination of the most expensive health insurance plan, health insurance deductibles of $100 per staff person and $200 per family for in network healthcare providers for the most popular plan, and prescription cost containment measures. Employees can also choose a health savings account plan with a $2,000 deductible. The district would contribute 60 percent of the deductible, or $1,200, for that option.

The most recent deal offered to teachers by District included an annual increase in base salary of 2.44 percent (retroactive to July 1, 2014).

As yet, no details of the Memorandum of Agreement or of a new contract have been forthcoming. The Board was due to meet in closed session and then in public session Tuesday night after Town Topics press time.

fourth-of-july-flag-cake

Independence Day falls on a Saturday this year and there will be enough history-inspired events to fill the entire day, not to mention a few that take place on the run up to the event.

This year’s traditional fireworks display, courtesy of the Spirit of Princeton, will take place on Thursday, July 2, at 9 p.m.

The community is invited to come early and enjoy their own picnics on the fields next to the Princeton University Stadium, along Western Way. The site will open at 7 p.m. so that everyone can settle in for the 16th Annual Independence Day Fireworks, which will take place rain or shine. Only lightning will cancel the spectacle in red, white and blue.

Visitors are asked to follow the rules that exclude alcoholic beverages and, because of the newly-installed artificial turf, they are asked not to smoke.

The event is free and open to all, with parking at University Lot 21 below the fields adjacent to Faculty Road. Parking is also available on streets nearby and in the University parking garage on Prospect Street.

The non-profit Spirit of Princeton not only sponsors the free July 4 fireworks but also the Memorial Day Parade as well as the Flag Day celebration, and Veteran’s Day ceremony. For more information, visit www.spiritofprinceton.org.

So much for the fireworks, now for the flintlocks, which will feature, appropriately enough, on Princeton Battlefield Park, at 500 Mercer Road (Princeton Pike) when numerous re-enactors will mark Independence Day on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Also free, this event seems to draw more and more visitors to Princeton each year. Many bring a picnic lunch and enjoy not only the park and the hiking trails of the adjacent Institute Woods but the period demonstrations that are intended to bring history to life.

The use of flintlock muskets as well as artillery drill will be demonstrated by soldiers of the Revolutionary War period from Mott’s 6th Company of the new 2nd Continental Regiment of Artillery. Named for Gershom Mott, who was born in Middletown, New Jersey in 1743, “Mott’s Artillery” was involved throughout the war, in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and then as far South as Virginia.

At the Thomas Clarke House, which will be open for tours and a small exhibition of Revolutionary arms, visitors will be treated to demonstrations of domestic skills of the era and there will be period games for children.

At noon, there will be a talk on the Battle of Princeton, followed at 1 p.m. by a reading of the Declaration of Independence.

If you’d like to sign the Declaration for yourself, head over to Morven Museum and Garden on Stockton Street, where a July 4 Jubilee will be in full swing, having started at noon. This is where you are likely to spot Benjamin Franklin (as portrayed by history enthusiast B. David Emerson) taking his afternoon constitutional.

Morven’s Independence Day Jubilee is also free and it will run, weather permitting, until 3 p.m.  What better place to mark the day, since the museum is the former home of another Declaration-signer, Richard Stockton.

Besides the historic house itself, which will be open and includes an exhibition of 19th-century chair making in New Jersey, “Of the Best Materials and Good Workmanship,” as well as yesteryear demonstrations on how ice-cream, bread, paper and guns were made, there will be live bluegrass music on the front porch from the Ocean Country Band. Plenty of barbecue will be for sale from the Oink & Moo BBQ food truck.

Arts Council of Princeton instructor Libby Ramage will be on hand to help visitors draw inspiration from the exhibition and create their own chalk or oil pastel rendering of a chair. And  historical interpreter Stacy Flora Roth will share the importance of tea in the early days of America with “Revolutionary Tea!” Why was it so important that fashion-conscious families posed for portraits with their tea sets? Did Great Britain lose its American Colonies over “the cup that cheers”? Ms. Roth is the one to enlighten you along with a fund tea lore, history, songs and poetry.

Visitors to the Morven Museum & Garden event, at 55 Stockton Street, should park in the Princeton Theological Seminary lot opposite or in the Monument Hall parking lots, as there will be no parking at Morven because of the many children expected to be on the grounds. The event will be cancelled if there is prolonged rain.

For more information on Ms. Roth and Mr. Emerson, visit their shared website:  http://historyonthehoof.com/. For more on Morven and the event, call (609) 924-8144 or visit: www.morven.org.

For those who rely on NJ Transit’s 655 bus for transportation between Princeton and the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, prospects are dim for the future of the route. The line is among those that NJ Transit is proposing to discontinue as a way to cut costs as the agency’s federal grant runs out.

With a decision expected in a few weeks, efforts are being made by the municipality, the hospital and Princeton University to come up with an alternative. But it turns out that there is already a way for those without access to cars to get to and from the hospital.

“It’s important to let people know that there currently is a free and open-to-the-public way to get there, which is Tiger Transit,” said Kristin Appelget, the University’s director of Community and Regional Affairs. “It’s our Forrestal/Princeton Plasma Physics Lab route, which stops at Princeton [Dinky] station.”

Ms. Appelget said the University reviews the route of its Tiger Transit bus each year. “Given the change in the 655, we’re looking at how we may be able to modify the PPPL route. We’re considering two locations: Nassau Street or Merwick/Stanworth, and we will probably know by midsummer.”

NJ Transit introduced its proposal to cut routes and raise fares last April. The agency maintains that the changes are necessary to keep up with rising costs including employee healthcare and other benefits. The proposed state contribution to NJ Transit for fiscal year 2016 is currently $33 million, trimmed from $40.3 million. That subsidy was $73 million during each of the prior two fiscal years. It was as high as $278 million in 2005. It includes money taken from the Clean Energy Fund and $295 million from the Turnpike Authority, which was supposed to be for the cancelled ARC tunnel under the Hudson River.

Members of the New Jersey Fund for Transit, a coalition of public transportation advocates, have said that the service cuts and fare hikes are a result of the state’s failing system for funding public transportation. The Transportation Trust Fund, which is for transportation capital projects, is bankrupt.

Mayor Liz Lempert has been involved in the discussions to make sure Princeton residents without cars can continue to travel between downtown and the hospital. “We’ve been told the 655 bus could be terminated as soon as September, but there are no firm dates,” she said. “Right now, it’s still running.”

At its meeting June 22, Princeton Council heard the results of a transportation survey  administered by the health and human services departments. Some 50 people polled at a community meeting answered questions about transportation options they would consider using should the 655 disappear. The survey determined that 80 percent of those polled use public transportation as their primary means of getting around. Sixty-five percent of those people do not have cars, and 63 percent currently use the 655 bus. Sixty-two percent have used the hospital clinic during the past year.

Most respondents indicated they would be open to using Tiger Transit to get to and from the hospital. “The good news is that a high percentage showed interest,” said Ms. Lempert. “The survey also found that most residents never knew where to go to get vouchers for the 655. So communication about the alternatives is going to need to be much better.”

Vouchers are currently available in the medical building next to the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street, and at the clinic at the University Medical Center at Plainsboro.

While the 655 NJ Transit bus costs $1.50 for adults and 70 cents for children and seniors, Tiger Transit is free. But the latter route does not and will not extend as far as Princeton Shopping Center, which is a stop on the 655 line.

Another option being explored is an on-demand taxi service. “The hospital is looking into this. The details of who is qualified are still being worked out, as well as how it would be administered,” said Ms. Lempert. “It would be in addition to Tiger Transit and would probably be a sort of subsidized taxi service.”

Since announcing its proposal to cut lines including the 655 and raise fares by nine percent, NJ Transit has held several public hearings throughout the state. Ms. Lempert said she was planning to attend a press conference on Wednesday, July 1, at the Trenton Transit Station, to object to the proposed fare increases, which would raise a one-way trip between Princeton Junction and New York’s Penn Station from $16.50 to $17.75. The last fare hike, made five years ago, was 22 percent.

NJ Transit’s board is scheduled to meet on July 15. In the meantime, local efforts continue to ensure that public transportation of some sort will be available for those without access to a car. “There are still a lot of moving parts, but we’re planning to have a plan in place by the end of July so that we can start advertising and getting the word out,” Ms. Lempert said. “We’ve been in discussions with the University and the hospital. We’ll definitely be reaching out when there is firm information. NJ Transit and the hospital have said they’ll help get information out, and we will hold community meetings.”

June 24, 2015

For the past 10 weeks, members of an ad hoc committee have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of tour buses on Nassau Street. The vehicles have caused concern chiefly because they hog valuable parking spaces while waiting for their passengers to shoot quick photographs of Princeton University and maybe grab a coffee at Starbucks before reboarding and leaving town.

Led by Bob Altman, who chairs Princeton’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, the 11-member ad hoc committee has settled on a simple solution: Have the buses unload and reload passengers at NJ Transit stops on Nassau Street in front of Palmer Square. “The simplicity of this is really terrific,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Monday night at a meeting of Princeton Council, where Mr. Altman presented the plan.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Council President Bernie Miller said the committee had attorney Lisa Maddox of Mason, Griffin & Pierson do some legal research, which determined that any omnibus can stop at the designated NJ Transit locations. After unloading passengers downtown, the buses would be askedКto park at a location on Alexander Street near the Dinky station and Springdale Golf Club before returning to Nassau Street to pick up passengers.

The buses would not be charged a fee for parking on Alexander Street, according to the plan. Councilwoman Jo Butler asked how the buses would be regulated, and town administrator Marc Dashield said that there is already a strong police presence on Nassau Street but details on enforcement still need to be worked out. A trial period starting around July 15 and ending September 30 is recommended, with any related parking fees and fines to be figured out after that time.

Ms. Lempert said there is a list online of tour buses that visit Princeton, and suggested that those companies be sent information about where to drop passengers off and pick
them up, and where to park while waiting.

The issue has been a thorny one among downtown merchants and members of the public. Chief among complaints, in addition to the parking problem, was the short visits passengers were making to Princeton. Instead of taking time to dine in downtown restaurants and visit local shops, tourists were tending to disembark from buses only to take pictures before moving on.

It was local merchant Henry Landau who suggested at a May Council meeting that the buses use NJ Transit stops instead of having the town take away eight metered parking spaces to create loading zones on Nassau Street, which was considered. That suggestion led to the legal research and the committee came up with the current plan.

Mr. Dashield will report at the July 13 Council meeting on whether there is a need for any new ordinances to be passed to enforce the program. In addition, Princeton Police Chief Nicholas Sutter will do an administrative review to determine whether there are items on which Council needs to take action.

Affordable Housing

Council members heard a report from Affordable Housing Coordinator Christy Peacock on the Affordable Housing Rehabilitation Program. “We think we have a better program than what we had before,” Ms. Peacock said of the initiative, which would offer interest-free loans of up to $20,000 for repairs or rehabilitation to plumbing, roof, structural, weatherization, and other major systems.

Also discussed were interest-free grants of up to $15,000 for senior citizens for work on roofs, siding, windows, heating and plumbing systems. If more work is needed, the Basic Home Improvement Program could be utilized, Ms. Peacock said. The grants will be reduced at one tenth per year and forgiven after ten years.

 A letter will go out to all residents explaining the programs, Ms. Peacock said. Residents who earn between $27,784 and $74,091 could qualify. “A lot of residents probably don’t know they are eligible,” Ms. Lempert said, adding that funds can be used for the rehabilitation of homes that are not designated affordable housing.

Mr. Miller presented a report from the Affordable Housing Task Force, identifying 13 possible sites for affordable housing. The properties range in size from .15 acres to 46 acres, including the Chestnut Street firehouse, the Harrison Street firehouse, the Maclean Street parking lot, the public works facility at 303 John Street, and sites on Herrontown and River roads, among others. Some of the parcels such as Princeton Community Housing, Princeton Housing Authority, the Princeton Fire Department sites and others, are currently being used for other purposes.

As part of its conclusions, the committee recommended that Council consider relocating the Fire Department and other municipal functions currently using the fire stations at Chestnut and Harrison Street to other locations to make the sites available for the development of affordable housing.

Describing a series of phone threats to Princeton schools and other local institutions as “terrorism,” Police Chief Nick Sutter told concerned parents and members of the public last week that the situation, known as “swatting” because it mobilizes members of police SWAT teams, is being taken very seriously. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies are assisting local police in trying to determine who is behind the actions.

Mr. Sutter was joined by Mayor Liz Lempert, Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane, town administrator Marc Dashield, Councilwoman Heather Howard, and Lieutenant Robert Toole at a public meeting Thursday at John Witherspoon Middle School. “I understand the stress you feel,” Ms. Lempert said to the the assembled parents, “not just as mayor, but as a parent.”

Mr. Sutter, the father of three boys in a neighboring district that has also been receiving the threats, said that resources on the state and national level are being utilized in efforts to combat the ongoing incidents. There have been approximately 14 threats to Princeton since January, six of which have been directed at public schools. Recently, Mr. Sutter said, there were 19 threats made in New Jersey on the same day.

“We’re taking a heavy hit here in Princeton,” Mr. Sutter said. “But these are happening all over the country, from private homes to The White House.”

Calls have come in either pre-recorded or via computer synthesizers, through Internet-based phones that do not have phone numbers that can be traced. While all of the threats so far have been considered hoaxes, every one is treated as if it were real. The trend started among the video game community, Mr. Sutter said. Users would seek revenge against other gamers by calling in threats and then watching police response live from the video camera in their home computers.

“Then, they’d get recognition for doing it,” Mr. Sutter said. “But now, they’ve gone to a different level.”

When calls come in, they threaten “a horrible act,” Mr. Sutter said. “It may be repeated, or it disconnects.” Police “get in and get out and make it as safe as possible” in response to the calls, which
have threatened not only schools but stores, malls, and private residences. The FBI is helping to coordinate the investigation under one umbrella, which is helpful, he added, and regular intelligence briefings are held.

Mr. Cochrane said that since April 28, threats have come in to Riverside and Johnson Park elementary schools, John Witherspoon Middle School, and Princeton High School.

Two of the threats to schools have resulted in lockdowns, including one which indicated that a person was in the building.

The mother of two high school students, one of whom is especially rattled by the calls, asked how to get her son some help. Mr. Cochrane responded that counselors, social workers, and psychologists are all available. Another parent said while she appreciates the work the police have been doing, she feels the response to the incidents is reactive rather than proactive.

Mr. Sutter assured her that the approach is proactive. “We have officers at the schools every single day,” he said. “I’m very confident that the way we’re responding is the most effective way.”

Officials told parents that a plan is in place at Community Pool, and one was also developed for Princeton High School’s graduation exercises, which took place Tuesday. Private and charter schools in the area are also being considered by police in plans for responding to threats. The week before the meeting, some 100 representatives from different law enforcement agencies gathered in Princeton to talk about the investigations and map out next steps.

“These perpetrators are aimed at doing one thing: disrupting our lives and creating fear and terror,” said Mr. Sutter. “It is being treated as the most serious of acts.”