July 8, 2015

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.


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.”

With the end of an archeological survey on the site where it plans to build housing for its faculty, the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), looked ready to announce preparations for the construction last week.

A press briefing was called for members of the media on June 17. But at the last minute, the briefing was cancelled and a statement issued instead.

According to the statement, the Institute has reached an agreement with the Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS) under which work at the 7-acre site close to the Princeton Battlefield State Park will be limited to construction of a security fence.

An Institute spokesperson said that the press briefing is to be rescheduled for a later date in July, pending the outcome of a suit brought by the Battlefield Society.

In the meantime, both IAS and PBS have agreed to keep mum.

“The parties agree that there will be no public statements about the agreement and the schedule of construction activities until that time,” said the IAS spokesperson.

The court ruling is expected next month. Until then, work on the housing project is on hold.

The housing project has faced several legal battles over the years.

PBS has long opposed the Institute’s plans for seven single-family homes and two four-unit
townhouses. They have raised environmental concerns and argued that building on the site would destroy a part of the battlefield where British and American forces fought in January 1777 during the Revolutionary War.

The Princeton Planning Board, however, unanimously approved the project last November.

Then, in January, the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission, which oversees and manages the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and protects the streams that feed into the canal, heard arguments from PBS that construction at the site would negatively impact wetlands.

After reviewing the Institute’s plans and hearing from both sides, the DRCC voted on the issue. The six commissioners present voted 3-2 in favor of the IAS. There was one abstention. According to the DRCC’s rules, four votes are necessary for approval. So, the IAS plans failed to gain approval.

But in February, the DRCC commissioner Mark Texel, who had abstained in January, brought a motion to reconsider the previous month’s vote. This second vote approved the Institute’s plans by a majority of 5 to 2 votes.

Having received the DRCC’s approval, the Institute looked ready to move ahead with its plans following the completion of an archaeological study.

Calling the second vote “an illegal do-over,” however, PBS attorney Bruce Afran challenged the reversal of the DRCC decision on behalf of the Battlefield Society, arguing the illegality of revoting after the agency had denied the application.

In March, Mr. Afran also filed an appeal of the Princeton Planning Board’s approval in Mercer County Superior Court.

At the time of his appeal of the DRCC ruling, Mr. Afran said that “If overturned, it would leave the Institute with few options.”

Archeological Report

When the Institute received approval from the Princeton Planning Board, it agreed to carry out an archaeological survey at the site in advance of construction. That survey, the third at the site, has just been completed.

Last week, the Institute released a report on the survey’s findings.

Conducted by the archeological firm, the Ottery Group, in stages over the past year, the survey is documented in an interim report available on the IAS website (www.ias.edu).

The report includes details of the survey’s methodology and technologies, including magnetometry, electromagnetic induction, ground-penetrating radar, 122 shovel test pits, three test excavations and two complete metal detection surveys. It describes the site, known as Maxwell’s Field, as “a significant archeological site and historic landscape associated with the Battle of Princeton.”

Of the 663 artifacts collected, ten related to the Battle of Princeton: five musket balls and five pieces of grapeshot. These artifacts, together with those recovered from previous surveys of the site will be analyzed and then transferred to the State of New Jersey.

The Institute’s archaeological protocol provides that an archaeologist will be on site to monitor construction activity that might encounter additional artifacts.

A link to the report is available on the Institute’s website: https://www.ias.edu/ias-statement-faculty-housing.

June 17, 2015

Some 45 local residents and interested users of Valley Road turned out Monday, June 15, for a neighborhood meeting designed to elicit their ideas and concerns with respect to planned improvements for Valley Road as part of the municipality’s capital improvement program.

Valley Road, between Witherspoon and North Harrison streets, will undergo a redesign, funded in part by a grant from the New Jersey Department of Transportation. The redesign will be done in the context of Princeton’s Complete Streets Policy, adopted in 2013, as well as the town’s master plan, which Mayor Liz Lempert acknowledged is now somewhat out-of-date but has to be worked with until it is revised.

This was the second such meeting and, like the first on May 12, it was chaired by Ms. Lempert.

Among the participants were Princeton Engineer Bob Kiser, Assistant Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton, Municipal Arborist Lorraine Konopka, Council member Jenny Crumiller, Traffic Safety Officer Sgt. Thomas Murray III, volunteer Steve Kruse of the Pedestrian and Bicyle Advisory Committee, and volunteer Sam Bunting of the Traffic and Transportation Committee.

Longtime Valley Road residents Charlie and Antoniette Mauro had come along with their daughter Josephine Molnar, who grew up on Valley Road and visits her parents there often. They expressed concerns that “improvements” will result in more traffic on Valley Road and questioned the impact on children crossing the road on their way to school. They were also worried about the potential impact on the value of their property if the municipality decides to meander sidewalks onto their lawn.

“The purpose of the meeting is to talk about road design,” said Ms. Lempert, who noted that as yet the municipality had no fixed plan in place but is working on one and seeking the input of the neighborhood. She explained that the meeting was not an official public hearing but rather an informal presentation to gather ideas.

“There has been a shift in road design in recent years,” she said. “It used to be that a road was to get people from A to B as quickly as possible but now we want to make it safer for walkers and bicyclists as well as motor vehicle traffic. If we can reduce the speed of vehicles, we could make Valley Road more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. It’s impossible to have a police presence on every street, so how can we give drivers the cues to slow down?”

Before residents were invited to comment, they heard a report from the town arborist Lorraine Konopka, three and a half months into her new job. Ms. Konopka reported on the health of Valley Road’s trees, mostly London Planes sited at intervals of, on average, 35 feet. “Our goal is to preserve as many as possible,” she said, noting that four London Plane trees and one Sugar Maple were showing significant signs of decay and were potentially dangerous. She reported on 17 potential tree removals, ranging from saplings to full grown trees.

Several residents were concerned about plantings in their yards bordering the sidewalk and Ms. Konopka noted such “extensive landscaping” at seven residences.

To residents wondering how far onto their property the municipality might venture, Mr. Kiser explained that Valley Road has a 35-foot right of way, which for residents means approximately 17.5 feet from the edge of the road on both sides. “This is often taken up by a grass strip and an existing sidewalk,” he said, and invited residents to stop by the municipal building to look at maps if they needed to check out the right of way with respect to their particular property line.

Responding to Ms. Konopka, one resident asked about the extent of damage to tree roots by impervious surfaces placed over them. “A tremendous amount,” she said, adding that roots can extend under the ground to some three times the distance of the canopy, that is three times the drip line radius. “Trees can tolerate some disturbance but hardline severing of roots is not one of them,” she said.

“Does that mean that you would not be in favor of paved paths over the roots,” she was asked, to which she responded: “To preserve the trees we should stay away from the roots as much as possible.”

When another resident suggested that restoring the existing four-foot wide sidewalks would be “a real good choice,” the room erupted with applause. Clearly that is an option to which residents are well-disposed. But one block of Valley Road has no sidewalks. Would putting in a sidewalk necessitate removing existing trees, the arborist was asked. Not necessarily, we could meander those sidewalks, she replied.

Ms. Konopka said that she would be carrying out a hazard risk assessment on problematic trees and that crews would be working in the next weeks to remove dead branches.

Another resident asked whether it was possible to use some pervious rather than impervious materials for sidewalks. In response, Ms. Stockton said that such material had been used on Cherry Valley and Littlebrook and that it was an option to be considered in terms of cost benefit, maintenance, and longevity.

Ms. Stockton then presented the results of a speed monitor that has been installed on Valley Road, which showed a weekday daily use of Valley Road by 6142 motor vehicles, 99 pedestrians on the south side, 32 pedestrians on the north side, eight west bound bicycles and 13 eastbound pedestrians. Speed data analysis showed that two thirds of vehicles kept to the speed limit.

Classified as a minor collector roadway, Valley Road has a 25-mph speed limit and a five-ton weight restriction and sidewalks along both sides of the road except for the northern side of Valley between Witherspoon and Jefferson.

School crossing guards staff the Valley Road intersections with Walnut Lane and Witherspoon Street for elementary and middle school student crossings, and excluding the North Harrison Street and Witherspoon Street intersections, 50 percent of Valley Road accidents occur at Jefferson Road; almost 40 percent at Walnut Lane.

Traffic accident data was provided by Sgt. Murray, who reported that he and Ms. Stockton had considered many options for reducing these.

A show of hands indicated that most residents would like to see increased lighting on the street but the idea of having pedestrians and bicyclists sharing a pathway met with criticism, even though many residents reported encounters with parents and children riding on the sidewalks without incident.

Sgt. Murray pointed out that sharrows painted on the roadway such as those on Witherspoon Street are not intended to be a safety measure for bicyclists but rather as a message to motorists to share the road. He reminded the meeting’s attendees that there is not one answer for all, but the purpose was to get the best design to address the needs of all stakeholders.

The meeting started at 7 p.m. and by 8:30 p.m. tempers were beginning to fray, as no specific plans for the road had as yet been forthcoming. Heidi Fichtenbaum of the Princeton Environmental Commission suggested that it was time to see what options were being considered.

Since the idea of an 8-foot-wide multi-use path had been deemed unacceptable by the majority of residents at the first meeting, it was taken off the table. Is it even possible to have a dedicated bike lane on Valley Road, someone asked, to which Mr. Kiser responded: “Potentially yes, but since the roadway is less than 30 feet wide, installing a bike lane could remove parking from the street unless it was possible to park between the trees.”

Other ideas mooted were to make Valley Road one way or close it off entirely to vehicular traffic (with the exception of emergency and police vehicles).

Several residents who are keen bicyclists noted the existence of bike paths on Guyot and questioned the need for them on Valley Road. One rider, a former Seattle resident, suggested that the best roads for bikers were the quiet back streets of Princeton.

Steve Kruse spoke on behalf of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC), whose mission is “to advise council on how to achieve their aspirational goals of being a more safe, sustainable, bike-friendly community,” explained Mr. Kruse by email. “Providing a continuous network of the safest possible bike facilities is the way to do this, and dedicated lanes on the roadway are basically what it will take. West Windsor and New York City are already leading the way on this,” he said.

Sam Bunting of the Traffic and Transportation Committee presented a visual “mock up” of several options for the road, one of which was to install dedicated bike lanes on the road that would create a physical separation between cycle traffic and motor vehicles, confined to 10 foot lanes.

“One in three cars is speeding on Valley Road, if we can narrow the road, we can slow those cars down and it will be a safer environment.” he said. “Sharrows do not narrow the roadway and with a 6 foot wide multiuse path, there is the potential for cyclist/pedestrian conflict.”

The idea of reducing motor lanes to just ten feet prompted much conversation. One resident pointed out that this is as wide as the Alexander Road bridge.

If this sounded daunting, Jerry Foster of the Greater Mercer Transportation Management Association, a transportation safety education nonprofit, commented that contemporary research shows that ten foot lanes encourage motorists to slow down and maintain the speed limit, which benefits motorists in terms of safety.

“Given that the empirical evidence favors ‘narrower is safer,’ the ‘wider is safer’ approach based on personal or intuitional opinion should be discarded once and for all,” he said by email. “The findings acknowledge human behavior is impacted by the street environment, and narrower lanes in urban areas result in less aggressive driving and more ability to slow or stop a vehicle over a short distance to avoid collision. Designers of streets can utilize the ‘unused space’ to provide an enhanced public realm, including cycling facilities and wider sidewalks, or to save money on the asphalt not used by motorists.”

Asked to clarify the next steps in the process, Ms. Stockton said that as soon as the survey was completed in the next few weeks, it would form the basis of a design; another neighborhood meeting might take place in September; any changes to parking would need a public hearing; and, by the terms of the state grant, a construction contract had to be awarded by the end of December.

Mr. Kiser noted that more discussions were necessary and told residents to feel free to mail him or any of the municipal participants with comments and feedback.

For more information, call (609) 921-7077, email dstockton@princetonnj.gov, or visit: www.princetonnj.gov.

Efforts to get the state to nix plans for a NJ Transit fare hike and a cut in some bus routes, including one that ferries passengers between Princeton and the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, are focused on state legislators as the June 30 budget deadline nears.

New Jersey For Transit, a coalition of 18 members, testified last week at a meeting of NJ Transit’s Board of Directors urging the agency and the government to come up with an alternative to the nine percent fare hike and the discontinuing of some routes. NJ Transit has proposed the changes to make up for a funding shortfall of approximately $60 million. If approved, the service cuts would go into effect in September and fares would rise October 1.

“We’re about to deliver a letter to Senate President Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Prieto,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, on Monday. “Because the final decision will be made in the next few weeks in Trenton on whether the government will fund NJ Transit in a way that doesn’t lead to hikes and cuts.”

But according to information from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which is one of the groups in the coalition, the official request to move forward with the fare hikes and service cuts was sent to NJ Transit’s Board Administration Committee for consideration at the committee meeting scheduled for yesterday afternoon (June 16). If approved, it will then be sent to the full NJ Transit Board of Directors for final approval at the agency’s July 15 board meeting.

NJ Transit introduced the proposal in April. The agency maintains that the service cuts and fare hikes 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.

The budget 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. Coalition members say 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.

Following nine hearings throughout the state, the public comment period on the plan closed May 21. At a hearing at the Trenton Transit Center on that day, local lawmakers including Mayor Liz Lempert urged NJ Transit officials not to cut the 655 bus route between Princeton and the hospital in Plainsboro because it would eliminate access to healthcare services for low income residents without other transportation.

Others protesting the proposal say the elimination of the 655 and other lines will cause unnecessary hardship while saving NJ Transit an insignificant amount. “The thing that’s absolutely mind-blowing about the proposed service cuts is that these cuts, including the 655, are the definition of being pound foolish and penny wise,” Mr. O’Malley said. “They will only result in savings of $2.5 million. But the affected communities desperately need those lines. The 655 is still relatively new, and we’ve seen a transit route increase ridership over the years. Give it a chance.”

The proposed fare hike would make a trip between Princeton Junction and Penn Station New York rise from $16.50 to $17.75. The last rise in fares, made five years ago, was 22 percent.

The coalition of mass transit advocates has organized a petition campaign aimed at state legislators. Mr. O’Malley hopes the public outcry over the plan will get government representatives to take action. “The public uproar has really resonated with the legislators, so I do think there is a chance they will listen to the public and roll back these fare hikes and services without raising dedicated funds,” he said.

June 10, 2015
After 16 years as executive director of the Princeton Public Library, Leslie Burger will step down in January 2016. Echoing Ms. Burger’s favorite term for the library under her tenure, particularly during crisis situations like Hurricane Sandy, former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand credits her with making it “the living room of our community.” (Photo by Mark Czjakowski for Princeton Public Library)

After 16 years as executive director of the Princeton Public Library, Leslie Burger will step down in January 2016. Echoing Ms. Burger’s favorite term for the library under her tenure, particularly during crisis situations like Hurricane Sandy, former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand credits her with making it “the living room of our community.” (Photo by Mark Czjakowski for Princeton Public Library)

Leslie Burger, the woman credited with turning the Princeton Public Library into “the community’s living room” while bringing it national recognition for services and innovation, is retiring after 16 years as executive director. According to the library’s Board of Trustees, Ms. Burger has decided to step down in January 2016. A national search will be launched by an executive search firm to hire her successor.

“This is a bittersweet moment for the Princeton community,” said Kiki Jamieson, president of the library’s Board of Trustees. “We’re very happy for Leslie as she starts a new chapter of her life, but we will sorely miss her leadership, vision, hard work, and dedication to the Princeton community and public libraries in general.”

Ms. Burger, who co-founded the private consulting firm Library Development Solutions with her husband Alan in 1991, will turn her full attention to that company once she retires. It was as temporary library director that she first came to Princeton in 1999 when former director Jacqueline Thresher had left for another position.

“Leslie took us by complete surprise,” recalled Marvin Reed, who was mayor at the time of what was then Princeton Borough. “We had this big plan to expand and double the capacity of the library. We weren’t sure what direction to take, or what we’d do about parking. Our director had gotten a wonderful job out on Long Island and here we were having to at least temporary fill her shoes. Leslie came on, and we told her we wouldn’t bother her too much about all our planning for our expansion, but she said, ‘That’s alright, I’m interested in that. We’ll fit it into the schedule.’ Eventually, she asked if we’d mind if she submitted her application for the directorship. Of course we said, ‘Fine.’”

Ms. Burger changed the way municipal leaders viewed the library’s future. “She introduced us to the fact that we weren’t just physically remaking a building,” Mr. Reed said. “We explored the whole concept as to what it means to be a library in this day and age. We were still on the edge with respect to technology and how far to go. She said, ‘Go for it.’ And she’s continued to press us to be as up to date as possible.”

As executive director, Ms. Burger led the library through an unprecedented period of growth highlighted by the design, construction, and opening of the Sands Library Building in 2004 and a successful campaign to build a $10 million endowment to support innovation. According to information from the library, she led development efforts resulting in more than $25 million in all in private funding for the institution.

During Ms. Burger’s tenure, all library usage statistics, including overall attendance, circulation of materials, growth of technology and digital collections, and public programming attendance either doubled or increased dramatically. She strengthened ties between the library and public, private, nonprofit, and educational institutions in the local community.

“Being executive director of a library in a town that places a premium on reading, learning, and community engagement has been the highlight of my career,” Ms. Burger said. “In 42 years as a librarian, I’ve seen the profession evolve from one marked by slow, deliberate planning to one driven by technology to rapidly meet the ever-changing and growing demands of library customers.”

Phyllis Marchand was mayor of Princeton Township when Ms. Burger arrived at the library. “I can’t imagine anyone who has accomplished so much in her job,” she said. “She literally stuck with this building and the garage and all the other issues she had to deal with, like the move from Princeton Shopping Center (the library’s temporary location during the renovation project). That library has become the living room of our community, as Leslie says.”

While working as the library’s executive director, Ms. Burger served as president of the American Library Association from July 2006 through June 2007. She is also a former president of the New Jersey Library Association.

“She had national contacts,” Mr. Reed said. “She was well known in the field. She brought national attention to what we had done here in Princeton.” Ms. Marchand added, “She really put the Princeton library on the national and international map when she was president of the AIA, which is a feather in our cap.”

Before joining the Princeton Library, Ms. Burger served as a development consultant at the New Jersey State Library where she focused on developing leadership and marketing initiatives within the state’s libraries. She served as executive director of the Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, which served Mercer, Monmouth, and Ocean counties. She also worked at the Connecticut State Library as the LSTA coordinator, director of Planning and Research, and director of Network Services. Her library career began at the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Public Library when she was hired to develop a community information and referral service.

The announcement of Ms. Burger’s retirement comes as the library is in the midst of a campaign to raise $3 million in private funding for the planned renovation of its second floor. She hopes to have all funds secured and for the project to be underway when she leaves.

“I cannot think of a better way for Leslie to complete her legacy as executive director of the Princeton Public Library than by her overseeing the funding and launch of this planned renovation,” said Ms. Jamieson. “Her vision and inspiration will forever be part of our community and a reimagined second floor is a wonderful and enduring gift from Leslie to all of us.”

“I’m so happy for her,” said Ms. Marchand. “I think she’s leaving at the top of her game.”

Rules for overnight parking and the purchase of a controversial property on Lytle Street dominated a lengthy meeting of Princeton Council Monday night.

The governing body was evenly divided about how to proceed with harmonizing rules from the former borough and township on overnight parking, leading Mayor Liz Lempert to cast the deciding vote against introducing an ordinance that would have slightly modified or expanded the former borough’s overnight parking rules. “This issue needs more consensus before we move forward,” Ms. Lempert said.

At its previous meeting, Council discussed three options for overnight parking. One was to keep boundaries the same, another was to make some changes, and a third was to ban overnight parking throughout the town. While no one expressed support for the third option, there was considerable discussion about the other two.

Council member Jo Butler, who did extensive work with colleagues Jenny Crumiller and Bernie Miller on the issue, was especially disappointed with the decision. Along with Mr. Miller and Patrick Simon, she voted in favor of introducing the ordinance, which would have made some changes to boundaries. Heather Howard, Lance Liverman, and Ms. Crumiller voted against it. Ms. Crumiller said that though she had done a lot of work on the issue, she recently changed her mind about introducing the ordinance because it wouldn’t be fair to tell residents who have previously been allowed to park overnight that they would no longer be permitted to do so.

Ms. Howard agreed with Ms. Crumiller’s opinion. “We ought to protect what we have,” she said. “The equity is really cut in favor of keeping existing rules. Tweaking the edges has a real impact on the residents who live in the area that’s being affected.”

Ms. Butler commented that other rules have changed as a result of consolidation, including regular leaf and brush pickup that borough residents have had to give up.

According to existing rules, anyone can park on the street in much of the former township. But in the former borough, on-street parking is not allowed from 2 to 6 a.m. unless the resident has a permit. Residents who do not have driveways can currently buy a permit for one car, for $30 a quarter. This would continue, according to the ordinance. Since the borough and township were consolidated, there are streets where residents at one end can park overnight, while those at the other end cannot.

“What’s fair is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to parking,” Ms. Lempert said earlier in the day. At the meeting, she acknowledged that while a lot of time has been spent working on the issue, “We shouldn’t go ahead with it because of that.”

Andrea Ihnat, a resident of Green Street in the former borough, said she has spent $7,000 on parking in the 10 years since she moved from Brooklyn to Princeton. “Overnight and daytime parking is actually easier in Brooklyn,” she told Council. “Near the art museum in Philadelphia, you pay $356 a year to park. Princeton needs to function like a real city.”

Former Borough Council member David Goldfarb, who lives on Charlton Street, said overnight parking restrictions are necessary as a way to address overcrowding on downtown streets. “I would be very cautious about changing the status quo,” he said. “Do not relax restrictions.”

Lytle Street

Council voted unanimously to purchase the double lot at 31-33 Lytle Street after considering a proposal from a group of citizens who want to partner with Habitat for Humanity and hope to build affordable housing units on the site. Under that proposal, which came to Council last Friday, the house located on one part of the property would be demolished by current owner, developer Roman Barsky. The Mary Moss Park would be expanded to that site. Habitat for Humanity would undertake fundraising to build one or two new units of affordable housing on the other side of the lot.

Plans call for the removal of the porch and other historic features of the house, which was built around 1870 and is considered to be the oldest on the street. Those elements would be included in the new construction. The parcel is in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, which Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission has recommended as a historic district.

The town has gone back and forth on the Lytle Street issue for the past few months, taking into consideration an outcry from citizens who were opposed to demolishing the existing house to turn the site into an expanded spray park rather than a site for affordable housing units. Council voted last March to buy the property for $600,000, with Mercer County agreeing to pay half if the house was razed. Mark Dashield, the town’s administrator, said that Princeton would have to pay back its open space account and the county’s portion if affordable housing was built there at a later date.

Construction would likely begin in 2017, said Tom Caruso of Habitat for Humanity in Trenton. Prospective buyers would be vetted before being approved, and would have to put in 300 hours of sweat equity. “We will not start the project until the fundraising is completed,” he said. “We wouldn’t put a shovel in the ground until we have all of the monies.”

Princeton resident Kip Cherry, who has been active in the efforts to partner with Habitat for Humanity, praised Council for approving the proposed plan. “We’re very excited,” she said. Porches such as the one being saved were key when the town “coped with being a segregated community.” John Heilner, who also worked in the plan, told Council the proposal was “a triple win for the community: additional affordable housing, expansion of Mary Moss Playground, and maintaining the scale and streetscape with replication of a key historical site in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.”

Resident Hendricks Davis told Council he thought the plan was a step in the right direction, though “not the best solution.” He favors that both lots be developed for affordable housing, rather than just the one.

Before making a final decision, Mr. Simon said he wants to hear the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Board which had not yet weighed in on the issue. Ms. Lempert praised the citizens and municipal staff members who have worked on the issue. “We all sort of went up and down on a roller coaster to see if it would work,” she said. “I’m really happy we were able to get to this point. I had my moments of doubt.”

The municipality is preparing to make improvements to Valley Road in 2016, as part of a capital improvement program, partially funded by a New Jersey Department of Transportation municipal aid grant.

Last month Valley Road residents were invited to contribute their ideas at a May 12 meeting. A second meeting, described as a “public design session” will take place Monday, June 15, at 7 p.m. in the Community Room at Witherspoon Hall, 400 Witherspoon Street.

This meeting, which will again be chaired by Mayor Liz Lempert, will continue the discussion between residents and representatives from various municipal Boards and Commissions. It is designed to discuss Valley Road in the context of the town’s master plan, which recommends the installation of an off-road multi-use path along Valley Road, as well as Princeton’s Complete Streets Policy, adopted in 2013.

Topics to be discussed include repairs to storm sewers, sanitary sewer main and laterals, new curbing repair of sidewalks and/or replacement with blacktop pathways. The municipality will be imposing a five-year moratorium on any street openings once the work is completed, and residents planning to upgrade or install new utility services are being advised to contact their utility company. A list of contacts is provided on the municipal website: www.princetonnj.gov.

Valley Road is currently classified as a minor collector roadway. It has a 25-mph speed limit and a five-ton weight restriction. It is estimated that approximately 6,000 vehicles per day use the road, which is part of the route of the Princeton FreeB. There are sidewalks along both sides of the road except for the northern side of Valley between Witherspoon and Jefferson. It is lined by a number of large established London plane trees.

At the initial May 12 session, three options were proposed in order to accommodate bicyclists. Option one would be to complete the existing four feet wide sidewalks and install “sharrows” on the roadway (a sharrow is a shared lane marking painted on the road surface). Option 2 would be to widen the sidewalks to six feet and install sharrows on the roadway. Option 3 would be to install an eight feet wide asphalt side path on the south side of Valley Road and complete the four feet wide sidewalk on the north side.

According to a document available on the municipal website (www.princetonnj.gov/engineering/Valley-Road-Improvement-Project.html), Valley Road residents have expressed the view that the third option is not desirable.

After the May 12 meeting, a Princeton resident proposed an alternative (fourth) option to “install a six feet wide bike lane, buffered from the vehicle traffic lanes with a planted median, and complete the four feet wide sidewalks.” This option would necessitate a reduction of on-street parking and the relocation of parking to the north side of the roadway. (See the Mailbox on page 8 for more on this issue)

Since the May 12 meeting, engineering staff and the Municipal Arborist Lorraine Konopka have completed an initial review of the existing right of way trees, their size, species, and general conditions. Ms. Konopka will be on hand to provide more information on the trees at the June 15 meeting.

Municipal tree crews are expected to be at work on Valley Road during the next few weeks, to remove some dead branches identified during the review.

In addition, engineering staff identified the location of some sump pump and/or roof drains that discharge very close to the road and/or sidewalk. Residents are being asked to fill out a Drainage Utility form to assist in this process. Public Works staff working with a subcontractor are in the process of cleaning and inspecting the storm sewer and sanitary sewer mains on Valley Road.

Later this month or in July, a surveyor is expected to conduct an engineering survey of the roadway, after which engineering staff “can begin our design drawing preparation.”

According to the engineering department, “comments will be evaluated and incorporated into the design as appropriate.” An additional design meeting may be scheduled in the summer to clarify any unresolved design issues but if no such meeting is deemed necessary, engineering staff will proceed with the design in order to secure the services of a contractor in late fall for the 2016 construction season.

Documents from the May 12 meeting are available at: www.princetonnj.gov/engineering/Valley-Road-Improvement-Project.html.

For more information, call (609) 921-7077 or email dstockton@princetonnj.gov

June 3, 2015

EisgruberPersistent rain on Monday moved Princeton University’s annual Class Day ceremony from outside to inside the University Chapel. But despite Tuesday morning’s raw weather, the University held its 268th Commencement ceremony on the green in front of historic Nassau Hall.

A total of 1,268 seniors received undergraduate degrees, while 885 graduate students were awarded advanced degrees on the lawn, the site of the University’s Commencement exercises since 1922. University President Christopher L. Eisgruber presided over the event. Due to the inclement weather, he delivered an abridged version of his address. The full text of his talk is as follows:

In a few minutes, all of you will march through FitzRandolph Gate as newly minted graduates of this University. Before you do so, however, it is my pleasure, and my privilege, to say a few words to you about the path that lies ahead.

For many Princetonians, the FitzRandolph Gate has an almost metaphysical significance. The gate marks not simply the edge of the campus, but the border between two worlds: on the one side, what students fondly С or sometimes not so fondly С call the “orange bubble,” a beautiful campus blessed with extraordinary resources, dazzling talent, and heartfelt friendships; and, on the other side, a turbulent world of practical difficulties, ranging from awesome global challenges to mundane personal problems С such as finding an apartment and paying the rent.

But of course the barrier between the campus and the world is not, and has never been, so sharp as the metaphor of the orange bubble would suggest. The world finds its way through the bubble, affecting life on our campus in myriad ways. Princeton, in turn, seeks to project its learning and leadership into the worldСto be, as Woodrow Wilson of the Great Class of 1879 said, “Princeton in the nation’s service,” and, as Sonia Sotomayor of the Great Class of 1976 said just last year, “Princeton in the service of humanity.”

We saw visible and poignant expression of those connections this year,  including emotional campus protests demanding justice for black men and women in America. These student-led actions carried forward a tradition of political engagement on this campus that is more than two centuries old — a tradition that expressed Princeton’s connections to the world beyond FitzRandolph Gate long before the gate itself ever existed. Indeed, on the day when the Class of 1765 graduated almost exactly 250 years ago from what was then called the College of New Jersey, its members protested British tax policy by resolving to purchase only American-made clothing.

In the years that followed, the connections between Princeton and the outside world manifested themselves in a variety of ways, sometimes loud and noisy, sometimes almost invisible. In 1938, for example, the New York Times reported that although students and faculty earlier in the week protested the University’s decision to award an honorary degree to New Jersey Governor Arthur Harry Moore, the commencement ceremonies on June 21 were placid and beautiful.

According to the Times, more than 2,000 people gathered that day in front of Nassau Hall while “sunshine splashed through tall trees” and “orange canvas across the front of the platform hid all but the ears of the great bronze tigers that have kept guard there for 29 of the building’s 181 years.” The orange bubble indeed! While gentle sunlight washed over orange canvas at Nassau Hall, storm clouds gathered in Asia and Europe, where events would soon plunge the world into a horrific war and unleash one of history’s most awful genocides.

The Times that year listed Princeton’s undergraduate prizewinners in astonishing detail — naming not only the Pyne Honor Prize winner but also more obscure honorees, such as the recipient of the Leroy Gifford Kellogg Cup for Sportsmanship, Play and Influence in Freshman Baseball. The article, however, said not a word about Princeton’s graduate degree recipients. Readers would therefore have no clue that among the 52 students receiving doctoral degrees that afternoon was a young English mathematician named Alan Mathison Turing.

And had they known, they probably would not have cared. Dr. Turing’s thesis was titled “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals.” It is amusing to speculate about how Governor Moore might have reacted if, after accepting his honorary degree, he had been introduced to the English doctoral student. Perhaps the governor would have complained, as politicians often do today, that Princeton was wasting its money by sponsoring dissertations on abstract topics such as “Systems of Logic Based on Ordinals,” rather than on more practical subjects with immediate application.

Governor Moore might have been surprised to discover that, even while completing some of the most celebrated doctoral research in the history of this University, the brilliant young mathematician could not ignore the world beyond the FitzRandolph Gate. Disturbed by the prospect of war in Europe, Turing began experimenting at Princeton with the construction of novel machines that might be used to encrypt information. A fellow graduate student gave him access to the physics department’s machine shop and taught him to use a lathe.

In lighter moments, Turing and his friends in the Graduate College constructed treasure hunts based on elaborate puzzles. One of Turing’s fellow graduate students, Shaun Wylie, was so clever at these games that Turing recruited him to help with the project that occupied him after his return to England. As has happened so many times before Turing and after him, a friendship formed in moments of leisure during tranquil times at Princeton endured and mattered in more urgent circumstances beyond its gates.

Those of you who made it far enough from the orange bubble to get to a movie theater will know something about Turing’s post-Princeton project. Turing’s story is told in The Imitation Game, which, I have to say, must be the first Hollywood blockbuster ever based on a book written by a University of Oxford mathematician about a Princeton University graduate school alumnus and published by the Princeton University Press.

Turing’s genius made him indispensable to the war effort as a code-breaker — an assignment he shared, as it happens, with one of today’s honorary degree recipients, John Paul Stevens, who was awarded a Bronze Star for breaking Japanese codes. Turing led the team that decrypted the Enigma cypher. It is perhaps an exaggeration, but if so only a mild one, to say that this brilliant doctoral student’s work both saved civilization from the Nazis and laid the conceptual foundation for the digital revolution. Not bad for a graduate student working on esoteric topics in theoretical mathematics.

If you have seen The Imitation Game, you also know that the exterior world impinged on Alan Turing’s life within the orange bubble in another, exceedingly cruel way by forcing him to repress his sexual identity. These injustices led eventually to a criminal conviction and suicide at the age of 41. Turing’s biographer, Andrew Hodges, writes that the young mathematician’s social life at Princeton was “a charade. Like any homosexual man [of the time], he was living an imitation game.” Forced to seek acceptance “as a person that he was not …. [H]is autonomous selfhood [was] compromised and infringed.”

Sixty-one years after Turing’s death, we live in a more tolerant society. Indeed, thanks partly to legal precedents established by today’s honorary degree recipients John Paul Stevens and Deborah Poritz, we may hope that we can soon see a day when all Americans can express their sexual identities freely and without fear of discrimination or violence.

Yet, though the world you enter today is far different from the one that greeted Alan Turing in 1938, your world, too, is fraught with disturbing challenges. Human activity strains the environment. Violence plagues many parts of the planet. Inequality is near an all-time high in many countries, including this one.

Over the past year, multiple police killings of black men have seared our nation in what the president of the United States has called a “slow-rolling crisis.” The crisis that we face today is only the latest iteration of a challenge embedded deeply within the history and the soul of the American nation. From its inception, the diversity of this nation challenged its leaders and tested the limits of republican governance.

At the time of the country’s founding, most political theorists and many Americans believed that democracies could flourish only if they were small and homogenous. James Madison of the Class of 1771, who lived and studied in Nassau Hall, famously argued that a large and diverse republic could protect liberty more effectively than a small one. His tenth Federalist Paper became a classic of political science and a foundational document in American history. But Madison’s solution was at best a partial one, for he never squarely confronted the great injustice of slavery or the challenge of racial inequality.

Two hundred and twelve years after James Madison earned his undergraduate degree, the Association of Black Princeton Alumni gave to this University a bust of Frederick Douglass. The bust now sits adjacent to this courtyard in Stanhope Hall, the University’s third oldest building, which has in recent years been the home of Princeton’s Center for African American Studies and which yesterday became, by unanimous vote of Princeton’s Board of Trustees, the home of this University’s Department of African American Studies.

Douglass expressed America’s aspirations as passionately and emphatically as anyone. He insisted, in the face of slavery and inequality and all of the manifest flaws in American politics, that the Constitution was rightly interpreted to guarantee the rights and liberties of all people. In a speech given in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1860, he said,

“The Constitution says: ‘We the people’ … not we the white people, not we the citizens, not we the privileged class, not we the high, not we the low, not we of English extraction, not we of French or of Scotch extraction, but ‘we the people.’”

Douglass dared to express an utterly audacious dream — the dream that all of us, despite our differences and our conflicts and our sins against one another, could come together as one people, united by a commitment to liberty. His vision was beautiful and profound and undaunted by the ugly circumstances of his time.

America has since its birth been a land of diversity and a land of audacious dreamers. It has benefited again and again from men and women who shared, against all odds, the dream that we might transcend our differences and yet be one people. It has benefited, too, from individuals who dared to believe that scholarship and education could generate the progress, the discoveries and the leaders who will help to solve our most difficult problems in our darkest hours.

When you march out FitzRandolph Gate a few moments from now, you will march into a world that urgently requires your commitment to dream audaciously. We hear a great deal these days about the need for what is practical, functional and utilitarian. I understand that. You really do have to find apartments and you do — you most certainly do — have to pay the rent. But I hope you will also find time to pursue ideals that are beautiful and profound, not just for their own sake, but because, as Alan Turing and Frederick Douglass remind us in their different ways, the beautiful and the profound are sometimes far more powerful and beneficial than all the things that the conventional world praises in the name of pragmatic utility.

And so it is with an eye toward the beautiful and the profound that we gather here today, bursting with joy amidst the turmoil of the outside world, to congratulate you on your achievements and wish you well as you begin your journeys beyond this campus. My colleagues and I on the faculty and in the administration, and my fellow alumni and trustees, hope you will carry the spirit of Princeton into the world, and we look forward to welcoming you back to Princeton whenever you return. We feel great confidence in your ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead, for on this special and auspicious day, you — our graduate students and our undergraduate seniors — are now, and shall be forever into the future, Princeton University’s Great Class of 2015.

Congratulations and best wishes!

Lance Liverman

Lance Liverman

In unofficial results from Tuesday’s primary election, Princeton citizens cast 530 votes in favor of current Council member Lance Liverman and 537 for current Council member Heather Howard. Both Democrats, Mr. Liverman and Ms. Howard ran unopposed.

On the Republican side, Kelly DiTosto and Lynn Lu Irving also ran unopposed for Council seats. Ms. DiTosto earned 128 votes, while Ms. Irving got 134.

Mr. Liverman was a member of the Princeton Township Committee prior to the consolidation of Princeton Borough and Township in 2013. He has been active on the Affordable Housing Board, the Corner House Board, the Housing Authority, the Personnel Committee, the Princeton Alcohol & Drug Alliance, the town’s Public Safety Committee where he serves as Fire Commissioner, and the Affordable Housing Task Force.

Ms. Howard, on Borough Council before consolidation, serves as Police Commissioner on the Public Safety Committee, and is also on the town’s Board of Health, Human Services Commission, the Legal Expense Committee, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the Pedestrian & Bike Advisory Committee.

Ms. DiTosto and Ms. Irving filed in March to run as Republicans in the election for Princeton Council. Ms. DiTosto is a longtime Princeton resident whose children have attended Princeton public schools. She works in the accounting field.

Ms. Irving is a licensed real estate agent who was previously a pre-school teacher. A native of China and a local resident for more than 25 years, she has two children who are Princeton High School graduates and another who still attends.

Other numbers reported in the primary included 562 votes for Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. In the 16th District for General Assembly, there were 564 votes for Democrats Andrew Zwicker and 521 for Maureen Vella. On the Republican side, there were 131 votes for Jack Ciattarelli and 127 for Donna Simon.

The winners will face off in the November elections.

Threats made in recent weeks to local schools, the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, Quaker Bridge Mall, a private business and residence have local law enforcement scrambling to determine who is behind these pre-recorded messages. While each case so far has been deemed a hoax, police are taking no chances.

“This is an absolutely despicable crime that is targeting the most precious of our society С our children,” said Princeton Police Chief Nick Sutter, on Monday. “It is certainly causing fear among schools and families. We are working with federal and state agencies, and have top experts partnering with us, and we will not stop until the threats stop and these people are brought to justice.”

The threats have increased across New Jersey in recent weeks. “I don’t use this word often, but from my perspective it certainly is an act of terrorism,” Mr. Sutter said. “It causes fear, has economic repercussions, and makes people afraid to go to public places. It’s quite serious in all of its ramifications.”

Last month, John Witherspoon Middle School, Riverside Elementary School, Johnson Park Elementary, and Princeton High School were each the target of threats, known as “swatting” because they draw a heightened response from a SWAT team. After thorough investigations by law enforcement, no suspicious activity was found at any of the schools.

On May 27, the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro was put in lockdown after an automated phone call to New Jersey State Police said there were gunmen in the hospital and parking lot. A “code silver” was issued and there were rumors that someone had been taken hostage because of the alert, but no suspicious activity was found by state and Plainsboro police.

A day later, shoppers at Quaker Bridge Mall were evacuated for two hours after a call came in from what appeared to be a computer-generated voice. K-9 units from the New Jersey State Police, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office, and the Princeton Police Department searched but did not find any explosive devices.

Similar hoaxes have taken place in recent years, but the current threats are different. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on this, and it’s been going on for some time,” said Mr. Sutter. “This takes the old-fashioned type of bomb threat that we’ve dealt with forever to a new level. It’s a huge public safety concern. I’ve seen it before, but this is something new.”

The police are working with other agencies to try and teach the public how to best deal with the phoned-in threats. “What we’ve been suggesting to the community, merchants, and the schools is that when a call comes in or is suspected, it’s important to remember specifics,” Mr. Sutter said. “Record the information that is given, the phone number, the information that comes up on the caller ID, and the sound of the voice, and give that information to the police department.”

Some two dozen threats in all have been documented in New Jersey over the past year. Among the targeted locations were schools in Holmdel, Ridgewood, and Farmingdale, as well as the Garden State Mall. The Office of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been aiding the New Jersey State Police and municipal police departments such as Princeton in investigating the incidents.

“We know that there are towns nationwide that are getting these, so that’s certainly an avenue we’re examining,” Mr. Sutter. “We’re working with different agencies, comparing all the data, and that’s definitely helpful in several ways. I’m confident that we’ll get to the bottom of it. It’s just really hurtful and has tremendous repercussions for the community.”

May 27, 2015

NashThe tragic taxi accident that claimed the lives of John Forbes Nash and Alicia Nash late last Saturday afternoon has inspired shock and sadness in the Princeton community and across the world. The famed mathematician, 86, and his wife, 82. a scholar in her own right, were traveling on the New Jersey Turnpike to their Princeton Junction home when the car crashed about 4:30 p.m. and ejected them from the vehicle.

The taxi lost control near Interchange 8A when trying to pass another car, and crashed into the guardrail, according to New Jersey State Police. The driver was flown to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The Nashes, neither of whom were said to be wearing seatbelts, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr. Nash’s connection to Princeton University goes back to 1950, when he earned his doctorate in mathematics. He joined the University’s mathematics department as a senior research mathematician in 1995, a year after he won the Nobel Prize for economics for his work in game theory.

In between, he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which derailed his career but dissipated as he grew older. Mr. Nash’s life was the subject of Sylvia Nasar’s book A Beautiful Mind, which was turned into an Oscar-winning film in 2002. The mathematician was portrayed by actor Russell Crowe, who commented on Twitter that he was stunned by the accident and called the couple “An amazing partnership. Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts.”

University President Christopher Eisgruber commented on Sunday, “John’s remarkable achievements inspired generations of mathematicians, economists, and scientists who were influenced by his brilliant, groundbreaking work in game theory, and the story of his life with Alicia moved millions of readers and moviegoers who marveled at their courage in the face of daunting challenges.”

University economics professor Dilip J. Abreu called Mr. Nash’s work in game theory “beautiful and profound. His contributions are arguably the greatest in the field, surpassing even those of John von Neumann, the 20th century polymath and founding father of the discipline. His papers have a celestial and effortless quality, as if penned — coolly — while God murmured in his ear.”

When the accident occurred, the Nashes were heading home from Newark Liberty International Airport after a trip to Oslo where Mr. Nash was awarded the prestigious Abel Prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Mr. Nash was recognized for his seminal work on partial differential equations, which are used to describe the basic laws of scientific phenomena. He shared the nearly $750,000 prize with longtime colleague Louis Nirenberg, a professor emeritus at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Nirenberg told National Public Radio that the Nashes were supposed to take a limousine home, but the driver failed to show up. So they took a taxi instead.

The two men received the Abel Prize from King Harald V at a ceremony on May 19. At the event, videos about both men were aired. Mr. Nash’s voice provides narration for the feature about him, as he walks around the Princeton campus.

“I like to think of myself as being sort of like an enlightened philosopher,” he said in one part. “I think of myself as an exceptional mind and I’m specifically trained in mathematics,” he said in another. “I experience myself thinking differently from other people. This could be good if I could think of something that wasn’t what everyone could think of …. I like to think of myself as a genius, but later on I realized it’s meaningless.”

The couple met at MIT, where Alicia Nash was a physics major and John Nash taught. They married, divorced several years later, and then remarried. Mrs. Nash, a mental health advocate, is credited with saving Mr. Nash’s life during his illness, taking him back into her home and caring for him even after they had divorced. Ms. Nasar wrote in A Beautiful Mind, “It was Nash’s genius … to choose a woman who would prove so essential to his survival.”

Mary Caffrey, who worked in the University’s Office of Communications during the time the book was published, recalled working with Ms. Nash at the time. “She was so gracious, and you could hear her pride that John was finally receiving the recognition he was due,” she said. “While the Nobel certainly brought John Nash back into the academic community, I think Alicia realized that Sylvia Nasar’s remarkable book would bring John’s story to a wider audience, which, of course, it did. Alicia was wonderful to work with and I always admired her strength and devotion to her husband.”

The couple’s son Johnny Nash, who also suffers from schizophrenia, survives them. Another son from Mr. Nash’s previous relationship, John David Stier, also survives. Mather-Hodge Funeral Home is handling the memorial service, which is private. A full obituary is to be posted on the Princeton University website later this week.

Discontinuing the 655 bus line that ferries passengers between Princeton and the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro on Route 1 would be a disservice to local residents, Mayor Liz Lempert, other politicians, and local residents told NJ Transit officials at a public hearing last week.

Thursday was the last day the public could comment on service cuts and fare hikes that NJ Transit has proposed to make up for a $60 million funding shortfall. At the Trenton Transit Center, a long line of people voiced opposition to both aspects of the plan. “Residents of Princeton who do not own a car currently rely on public transportation,” Ms. Lempert said during her turn at the microphone. Getting rid of the 655 bus “will disproportionately hurt our low income residents.”

In his opening statement, Alan Maiman, NJ Transit’s deputy general manager of bus service planning, said there are alternative routes that residents could use, involving a connection at Quakerbridge Mall. But more than one speaker said that alternative would involve paying more money and extending the trip from 20 to 90 minutes.

Officials urged NJ Transit to give the line, which has been in place since the hospital moved from the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood to Route 1, a chance to increase ridership. Lester Varga, planning director of Plainsboro Township, said more development planned for the area around the hospital will mean more riders when those projects С an assisted living facility and child development center С are completed.

Officials at the hospital have said they will keep subsidizing the service if NJ Transit keeps it going. And at its most recent meeting, Princeton Council passed a resolution to keep a form of transportation between the town and the hospital.

“The 655 is more than a bus route,” commented Aaron Hyndman, communications coordinator at the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition. “It’s a vital link between people in Princeton and their closest hospital. And for those who depend on biking and walking, it’s their only option.”

NJ Transit has said that the fare hikes and service cuts, if approved, would go into effect October 1. The agency has mentioned more than $42 million in  internal savings from a reduction of overtime and other expenses, but still faces a $60 million budget gap. The proposed fare adjustment is for approximately nine percent, which would make a trip between Princeton Junction and Penn Station New York rise from $16.50 to $17.75. The last fare hike, made five years ago, was 22 percent.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) was among the first to speak at the hearing, commenting that raising bus and train fares will mean that riders will defect and choose to drive their cars instead. “All of us benefit from low fares because the less cars that are on the road really helps out the environment and congestion,” he said. “If we chase more people into their cars on the roads, it’s not going to benefit us.”

Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex) said, “There couldn’t be a worse time to raise train and bus fares on our working poor.” The changes could cause commuters to move out of New Jersey to live closer to their jobs, she added.

Senator Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) urged the agency to find other methods of filling the budget gap. “In effect, you are adding insult to injury when you ask riders to pay more and receive less,” she said. Taking the bus route 655 out of service would be “very, very disturbing,” she added.

Several speakers took the opportunity to blast Governor Chris Christie for the proposed changes and other actions he has taken on public transportation. “Listen up, Governor Christie. We will not sit down and shut up,” shouted Martin Heraghty, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 824. He called Mr. Christie “Robin Hood in reverse” and called the proposal “a disgrace.”

Many of the speakers were members of New Jersey For Transit, a coalition put together to express opposition to the transit agency’s proposal. “Transit riders can no longer afford to pay the price for New Jersey’s inaction,” said Jon Whiten, deputy director of New Jersey Policy Perspective. “If the governor and the legislature won’t step in to fix a crisis that’s been coming for decades, the least they can do is find a short-term solution in the 2016 budget to fill NJ Transit’s operating hole. Passing the buck to transit riders just won’t cut it.”

The Princeton Public School’s Board of Education approved new three-year contracts with two of the district’s three employee associations at a special meeting in the Valley Road administration building May 20.

Contracts were made with the Princeton Regional Support Staff Association (PRESSA), which represents instructional aides, custodians, bookkeepers, and secretaries, and with the Princeton Administrators’ Association (PAA) which represents principals, assistant principals, and supervisors. Both contracts will replace those due to expire June 30.

Superintendent Steve Cochrane described the negotiations with PRESSA as “a model of positive and productive labor relations.” Of those with PAA, he said he appreciated the “leadership’s positive, professional, and efficient approach.”

Conspicuously absent from successful completion, is a contract with teachers’ union Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), which has been in lengthy and contentious negotiation since it expired July 1 last year.

Since last fall, talks have been facilitated by state-appointed mediator, Kathy Vogt. But after the two sides failed again to reach agreement Monday, May 4, Ms. Vogt referred the matter for fact-finding to the New Jersey Public Employees Relations Commission, a stage in the process that Board President Andrea Spalla described as “costly and lengthy.”

Similar to non-binding arbitration, the fact-finding process involves a formal hearing before a neutral “factfinder,” who eventually issues recommendations for settlement.

“The process may take anywhere from six to 12 months,” said Lewis Goldstein, assistant superintendent for human resources in a press statement from the district.

According to Mr. Goldstein, mediation is provided to the parties free of charge but a factfinder can charge between $1600 and 2500 per day; a cost that would be split equally between the parties.

At the special meeting and in a press release afterward, details of the Board’s latest offer to the PREA were made public, now that neither side is bound by the mediator’s confidentiality agreement. In response, PREA representative and chief negotiator John Baxter sent a statement to Town Topics. “The Board of Education’s agenda for last night’s meeting contained just two items: ratification of the contract with PRESSA and ratification of the contract with PAA. Board President Andrea Spalla and Superintendent Steve Cochrane, however, spent much of the meeting talking about what wasn’t on the agenda — the negotiations with PREA. When questioned about the propriety of this conduct, Mr. Cochrane explained that sometimes items not on the agenda come up in discussion during the course of a board meeting. This did not serve to explain the powerpoint presentation on the negotiations with PREA, obviously planned for use during the meeting.”

According to the district, the Board’s most recent offer to PREA was structured almost identically to that with PRESSA and included “an aggregate increase in compensation at the effective rates of 2.44 percent in year one (retroactive to July 1, 2014), 2.87 percent in year 2 and 2.79 percent in year 3 of the new contract. The Board’s offer was contingent on PREA members remaining at their current Chapter 78 premium contribution levels and implementing cost-saving measures similar to those agreed to by the other two unions.”

According to Mr. Baxter, “the Board’s effort to unfairly portray the PREA as unreasonable was blatant both during the meeting and in the Board’s press release. The PREA did not refuse to meet again as the Board has characterized the termination of talks on May 4.”

Furthermore, said Mr. Baxter, “The Board’s last proposal included two major inequities: it advanced some educators on the salary guide ahead of others with more experience; and it denied health care relief for others because they were hired within the past four years. We have been negotiating since March, 2014. The time has come for proposals that will get the job done — not proposals that are divisive and that the Board should know we can not take to our members for ratification.”

Of Superintendent Steve Cochrane’s comment, made during the meeting, that the Board remains open to communications and returning to the negotiations table, Mr. Baxter said “We know that is true. What he didn’t tell the public is that it was PREA who reached out to him on May 7 and initiated that conversation.”

May 20, 2015
A POSSIBLE EXPANSION: A model of how the campus of PRISMS Academy might look if it is approved for zoning that would allow expansion shows the main building, center, in white, surrounded by proposed buildings, in brick. Homes surrounding the campus, several of which have been purchased by the school, are also shown in white. Residents of the neighborhood are concerned about the project.

A POSSIBLE EXPANSION: A model of how the campus of PRISMS Academy might look if it is approved for zoning that would allow expansion shows the main building, center, in white, surrounded by proposed buildings, in brick. Homes surrounding the campus, several of which have been purchased by the school, are also shown in white. Residents of the neighborhood are concerned about the project.

At a meeting next Wednesday, May 27 at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS), residents of Lambert Drive will get a chance to air their concerns about a proposed expansion of the school, which is housed in a former mansion in the middle of the neighborhood.

PRISMS, which has purchased five homes on the neighborhood’s inner loop and has pending purchases of others, has applied for a use variance in order to expand from 80 to 240 students and add a two-story academic building, dormitory, dining hall, gymnasium, and parking lots to the campus. Residents of the homes surrounding the site worry that the scope of the project will add noise, traffic, and congestion, and alter the character of the area.

But the school’s administration maintains that the expansion would be respectful of the neighborhood. “I can understand people would be concerned when they hear about the expansion,” said Matthew Pearce, PRISMS’s executive principal. “But we feel we’re trying to build a school of excellence. Our students are all very focused. Their days are very busy and structured. We’re actually being careful not to disturb the state of the neighborhood by preserving the garden nature of the campus. Where we intend to build is inside our main campus, as it were. We feel we’ll contain it as best we can. It won’t cause a negative impact.”

The project’s architect Bob Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder) said the expansion will have 75-foot setbacks, exceeding the requirements in a residential zone. “The buildings we’re planning are well within the site,” he said. “And also, they are basically residential in scale.” Mr. Hillier added that the school was approached by homeowners about purchasing their properties, instead of the other way around. “In each case they have come to them and said, ‘Before I put it on the market are you interested?’,” he said.

Housed in the former home of the American Boychoir School, PRISMS is a non-profit organization that has a sister school in Beijing and is affiliated with Renmin University. The property, which was home to pharmaceutical magnate Gerard Lambert before housing the Boychoir school from 1952 to 2012, was purchased by the Bairong Education Foundation, funded by Jiang Bairong of the multi-billion dollar Bairong Investment Holdings Group in Beijing.

The school needs a floor area ratio (FAR) above what is permitted in the R-1 residential zone in order to carry out the expansion plan. Mr. Hillier submitted a master plan to the town in February. The issue could come before the Zoning Board sometime next month, though an exact date has not been set.

Lambert Drive residents say they bought their homes knowing a school was located in the center of the neighborhood, with restrictions limiting the student body to 82. Changing zoning to raise that number to 240 would have a negative impact on their quality of life, they say.

PRISMS first announced plans to request a rezoning two years ago, with a goal of expanding enrollment to 300. But strong opposition from neighbors resulted in the request being removed from the Princeton Council agenda in February of that year. Residents say nothing more was mentioned and it appeared the proposal had been dropped.

Neighbors learned that a master plan had been submitted this past February when a resident sold her home to the school. The properties that have been purchased, which are located on Lambert Drive and Rosedale Road, will not be removed from the town’s tax rolls, as some have suggested, according to Mr. Hillier. “The school’s intention is where they have the houses, they will continue to pay the taxes on them,” he said.

Mr. Pearce, who has been at PRISMS for a year, said the plan has been to expand since he came in. “I don’t think we’re sustainable at just 80 students,” he said. “I think that’s a problem the previous school [American Boychoir] faced.”

He said he has not approached any neighboring homeowners about selling their houses, “but we do get phone calls and people ask us if we are interested,” he said. “If that happens, we do approach them.”

Houses purchased by the school will be turned into staff accommodation, offices, and possibly an art center. “As we expand, we’ll use them for whatever purpose we see fit at the time,” he said.

An organized group of neighbors is seeking legal support and forming a 501C-3. “We have a neighborhood and we enjoy it,” said one resident, who was advised not to identify himself. “We’d like to preserve it and we’d be happy if the school would preserve the R1 zoning. They could do some development, as long as they’re respectful of the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood meeting will be held at PRISMS on May 27 at 7 p.m.

It may be more than a decade away, but commuters could one day have a direct link from Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor up to Nassau Street, where the French Market is currently located. Implementing this plan would involve converting from the existing trains that run between Princeton Junction and the Princeton rail station to a different technology; most likely light rail. The price tag is upwards of $45 million to install, with annual operating costs of about $1.7 million.

A combination of funding from the municipality, the county, state, and federal government could make this vision of a future Princeton a reality, according to a report from the Alexander and University Place Transit Task Force. Delivered to Princeton Council at its meeting on May 11, the report revealed some recommendations about extending the rail link and easing vehicle traffic, which is destined to become more problematic as development continues on the Princeton University campus, the town, and beyond.

The task force was formed in October 2011 as part of a memorandum of understanding between the former Princeton Borough, Princeton Township and the University. The idea was to study, evaluate, and make recommendations to manage the flow of traffic and transportation. So far, the task force made up of current Council members Lance Liverman and Patrick Simon, former Borough Council member Kevin Wilkes, University transportation director Kim Jackson, University community affairs director Kristin S. Appelget, and professional planner Nat Bottigheimer, has met 22 times.

When the group first formed it was not clear that extending the line to Nassau Street was possible. “But now we know it is,” said Mr. Wilkes, who delivered the findings to Council. “We have some basic understanding of what the conditions would be in order to make that happen,” he said in an interview this week. “So after many years of arguing over moving the train further away from Nassau Street, it’s useful information for us to have to know how to reverse the trend.”

The new technology could incorporate the train station that the University has constructed as part of its Arts & Transit development. A more costly option would be to move the station further south to the location of the Metro North restaurant, but that is least likely to be implemented.

The current heavy rail cars would be traded in for newer, lighter weight vehicles, “These would be much easier for the operator to drive,” Mr. Wilkes said. “They brake more rapidly and have better sightlines. So all of the vehicles would be changed to one streetcar, and we’d still keep the new station.”

Regarding funding, Mr. Wilkes said the federal government has programs for small starts such as this project. “If we had done this eight years ago, the chance of funding then would have been 80 percent federal and 20 percent local match,” he added. “But that’s no longer plausible. Now, we would have to aim more toward 50/50. So obviously, we would have to get the county and state involved, and West Windsor Township, if we want to get this together. We need to sprinkle it out among local stakeholders, including some private organizations that would benefit, such as the University,” he said.

Mr. Wilkes’ personal recommendation would be to charge an impact fee for developers who build in the town’s central business district. “We could let those who would most benefit from having rail arrive at Nassau street to carry some of those costs — in fact, a significant portion,” he said.

On the topic of traffic, a representative from the company AECOM told Council that eliminating left hand turns at Nassau and Mercer streets and getting rid of the left hand turn from Nassau Street onto Bank Street could ease congestion. Closing parts of Mercer and Witherspoon streets could also help. The traffic study suggests that over the next 12 years, vehicle trips along Alexander Street during peak afternoon hours could rise from 948 (in 2012) to almost 2,000. A third of those can be linked to local growth, while the other two thirds are estimated to come from regional growth outside Princeton.

But further study is needed on road closures and street directionals to determine how to develop “a coordinated network to move people and vehicles to, and within, Princeton in ways that reduce congestion and vehicular traffic,” the group states in a summary of its findings so far.

With all of the discussions regarding policing now going on in the world-at-large, Town Topics called upon Police Chief Nick Sutter to share his thoughts on such issues as the use of body cameras in the context of more low-tech community policing strategies that are being used to reach out to the municipality’s diverse populations.

After the proven success of in-dash vehicle cameras, which the department has been using for 15 years, the next logical step is to outfit officers with body cameras, said Mr. Sutter. Vehicle cameras can record police arrests and other encounters with suspects; they pick up incidents happening on the street; and anyone who is arrested or traveling inside a police vehicle will be recorded by a camera that switches itself on automatically.

To date, Princeton is one of 10 out of 11 police departments in Mercer County that has in-dash cameras (the one exception is Trenton); it is one of three currently discussing the introduction of body cameras.

Vehicle camera have shown their worth in two major ways, said the police chief: they are often presented in court to show police and suspect behavior and they can also be used to examine police behavior if there is a complaint from the public. “If someone is stopped for speeding and alleges bad language or poor demeanor on the part of one of my officers, or if someone alleges that he or she was improperly searched, we can check that out,” said Mr. Sutter. “Overwhelmingly, in Princeton, the officers are cleared. I cannot recall an incident where an officer acted improperly, based on the facts of their behavior. This isn’t to say that the person making the complaint is lying, sometimes they simply perceive the officer’s behavior to have been improper when it isn’t. Body cameras would not only serve the interests of the public, they would benefit police officers too.”

So far, Mr. Sutter has discussed the acquisition of body cameras, which would be clipped to an officer’s chest, with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, as well as informally with the governing body. “The Princeton Police Department is in favor but digital storage is expensive and although there are federal grants most of the need is from larger cities with major crime problems. Cost is likely to be the determining factor.”

Nevertheless, the police chief has been examining different kinds of cameras and how and when they are used. “It’s high on our wish list,” he said. “This is an issue at the forefront of policing right now and I approached the PBA [Police Benevolent Association] last year to find out how officers feel about this; they are clearly in favor.”

According to the police chief, people in Princeton are comfortable when it comes to questioning the police. “I’ve read a lot about Civilian Review Boards but it’s my belief that if we are truly transparent in our handling of complaints, that will result in people trusting us,” said Mr. Sutter. “It’s also important that we cultivate an atmosphere in which it’s possible to admit mistakes. We are all of us human and we all make mistakes; the important thing is to admit to them and fix them.” Routinely encouraging the acknowledgment of small mistakes and handling them is the way to prevent bigger mistakes from happening, according to the police chief. “I believe it is important for members of the community to see us as individuals.”

To that end, the Princeton Police Department promotes proactive investment in community outreach programs like Coffee with a Cop and local events like the recent Wheels Rodeo where police officers get to know the communities they serve and vice versa. Trust is necessary, said Mr. Sutter, when incidents involving the use of force occur. “And that can happen in Princeton too,” he said. “It is my experience that people bring their own experiences from elsewhere to Princeton. If someone once had a bad experience with a police officers in another state, that translates to Princeton. It’s important to be aware of the tensions that exist in our cities across the country.”

And it is just as important to avoid complacency. “It’s impossible not to be concerned about national events,” said Mr. Sutter. “While we live in a wonderfully accepting place and our police force is just tops, we’re not on an island but part of a larger world so its part of my job to anticipate the future and make sure that we are prepared.”

Princeton’s police continually prepare to proactively avoid situations such as terrorism and the use of force. “By our very nature, police are called upon to respond to problem situations. We want to make sure that what we do does not escalate a situation so that we don’t go towards the use of strong force. And we are not alone in that. We have law enforcement partners at the county and the state level who are a resource for us in an emergency situation, including natural disasters.”

These are the sorts of things that the police address in training, along with sensitivity to diversity. Today’s department mirrors Princeton’s demographics in terms of the breakdown of white, African American, and Latino officers — men and women. That it does so is one of the tenets of its recruitment policy.

Princeton residents represent many different cultures and different sets of beliefs. In some cultures, shaking hands may not be appropriate or may only be appropriate in certain circumstances; in others there may be an order in which it is appropriate to address individuals in a group or family situation. “We need to be sensitive to such things,” said Mr. Sutter. “It can be especially important to understand the nuances of cultural belief when we are called, for instance, to an incident of reported domestic violence. And it is also important to be sensitive to and aware of sexual orientation.” Because such considerations can determine police/public interactions, each member of the department undergoes Cultural Competency Training once a year, including the chief.

One aspect of diversity in Princeton is the use, endorsed by the local department, of Mercer County Community ID Cards, which were introduced some eight years ago following an incident in which an immigrant with no ID on him was found badly beaten and unconscious. “He was in a coma for days and it wasn’t immediately apparent who should be contacted,” said Mr. Sutter. “The card was being used in Trenton and we thought it was a good idea. Everybody who lives in the community is entitled to the exact same treatment and these cards help a segment of our community gain access to life-sustaining services. We honor them as a valid form of ID.”

May 13, 2015

Last July, Princeton Council created a task force to review and help harmonize existing parking ordinances from the former Borough and Township. Prominent on the task force’s list of issues is overnight parking.

The topic raises hackles because the existing ordinances allow some residents to park overnight while others, who may live on the same block, need to purchase a permit in order to do so. Council, intent on creating a new ordinance that is fair and reflects a consolidated community, heard three possibilities Monday night.

Assistant municipal engineer Deanna Stockton detailed the options for the governing body: Leave the boundaries as they are, adjust them slightly, or make no overnight parking a town-wide implementation.

Council members concurred that more input from the public is needed before an ordinance is crafted. “First,” said Ms. Stockton, “we want to discuss what the boundaries would be. Then we would move ahead with looking at the criteria for issuing permits and creating permit areas.”

In the former Borough, residents could purchase a permit for a fee. In the former Township, there was no fee payment required. That alone created “some fundamental unfairness,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “This is something important for us to address because obviously right now you have a situation where the former dividing line goes through the middle of some blocks. You have some neighbors having to pay for their permit and others are getting it for free.”

If overnight parking were to be banned town-wide, “It would eliminate this idea that my neighbor has it and I don’t,” said Council member Jo Butler. Her colleague Lance Liverman spoke out against such a measure. “It would make us seem unfriendly,” he said. “There are elderly people who have caregivers who park on the street. I can understand doing it in some areas, but for the whole town, it seems like overkill.”

Mr. Liverman said he favors option two, which would entail adjusting the boundaries. Other Council members agreed. But Council President Bernie Miller remarked that there will be people who have problems with all three of the options, though he saw merits to each approach.

“There will probably be people who will say don’t change anything, because that’s the way it has always been,” he said, “and others who can see some unfairness in the present situation, and others perhaps who can see how the present situation has been abused a bit and will look for a change.”

Maple Street resident Steven Griffies suggested initiating a one-car-per-residence option, with a costly fee for those who retain a second vehicle. He also asked Council to consider rules about daytime parking as well. Skillman resident Charles Gordon, a realtor currently trying to market a home on Murray Place, said the current ordinance has turned away potential buyers.

“Almost every family I have shown the house to has two cars,” he said. “I can’t sell it because of the parking ordinance.” Mr. Gordon added that he has done some research and concluded that residences without driveways or garages should be given parking permits.

Mayor Lempert said an ordinance will likely be put together using the second option, and that it will be introduced at Council’s first meeting in June with ample opportunity for feedback from the public. “This is a big one, so we want to be sure to get some public comment,” she said.

After mounting an emergency fundraising campaign, the American Boychoir School (ABS) has exceeded its goal of $350,000 to keep the financially ailing institution open until the end of the current term. The school has raised $359,096, according to an email sent to donors and school supporters. As of Tuesday, ABS had received $269,021 in gifts and $90,075 in pledges.

“The $30,000 challenge grant succeeded in closing the final gap, so ABS will have the necessary resources to complete this school year,” the email reads. “Thank you for your part in making these events a reality,” it continues after listing a series of activities this coming weekend, including a screening of the film Boychoir at the Princeton Garden Theatre on Friday, a gala concert and auction on Saturday at the school in Plainsboro, and the annual graduation ceremony on Sunday.

The school filed for bankruptcy last month. The academic year was curtailed from the normal, mid-June ending to this Sunday.

Founded in Columbus, Ohio in 1937 and moved to Princeton in 1950, the school for boys in grades four to eight was located on Lambert Drive until relocating to Plainsboro in 2013. With an international reputation, the school’s choirs have performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic, among others. The school was the inspiration for the film Boychoir starting Dustin Hoffman, Debra Winger and Kathy Bates. The Friday screening of the film is a fundraiser for the school.

It is unclear how the school will proceed in its efforts to stay in business after this term ends. “As we proceed, our singular focus will turn toward determining what will come next for the American Boychoir School. Opportunities for the institution abound, although considerable funds will be needed to build a plan going forward,” the email from Rob D’Avanzo, chairman of the Board of Trustees, reads. “We thank you again for your generosity through this phase of the campaign, and we hope that we can count on your help in keeping this exceptional mission a reality.”

Minh Dang

Human rights activist, Minh Dang, will receive the 21st annual Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award from Womanspace at a ceremony and reception Thursday, May 14, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency in Princeton.

Ms. Dang is being honored for her efforts to end human trafficking, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calls the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It is one that is hard to track and hard to stop.

Ms. Dang’s own harrowing story of surviving child abuse and sexual slavery, reached the public in 2010 when MSNBC aired the documentary Sex Slaves in America: Minh’s Story.

As a California schoolgirl, Ms. Dang led a secret life. Even as she excelled at academics and sports, she was being forced into sexual slavery by her own parents from the age of 10 until her first two years as a college student.

After severing ties with her parents, Ms. Dang has addressed tens of thousands of concerned citizens in an effort to bring the problem of modern-day slavery to public attention. She currently speaks on issues of human trafficking, leadership development, and social justice and develops strategies to support education, training, and leadership development for survivors.

Most recently she worked with the anti-human trafficking initiative Don’t Sell Bodies, which was founded by actress and activist Jada Pinkett Smith. As such, Ms. Dang helped launch the U.S. Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking with Senators Rob Portman and Richard Blumenthal.

In May 2013, she was one of 15 Asian American/Pacific Islander women recognized at the White House as a Champion of Change.

Described as “passionate about promoting the integration of individual and community healing” and a “true love warrior,” Ms. Dang has traveled extensively telling her story. She received her BA in sociology in 2006 and her Masters in social welfare in 2013.

At Thursday’s event, Ms. Dang will be introduced by her friend Abby Sher, author of Kissing Snowflakes; Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl who Couldn’t Stop Praying; and Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls who Escaped Modern Slavery.

Annual Award

Each May, since 1995, Womanspace has honored a person of distinction exemplifying the qualities of the event’s namesake, Barbara Boggs Sigmund, who is well-remembered as the mayor of Princeton Borough from 1983 until 1990. She died in office at age 51, after an eight-year battle with cancer.

As the daughter of Democratic Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana and Corrine “Lindy” Boggs, who held the post of Congresswoman from New Orleans for some 20 years, Ms. Sigmund had politics in her blood. In 1982, following a diagnosis of cancer, she had her left eye removed and subsequently attended mayoral events sporting an eye patch chosen to match her outfit. When she entered the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1989, her campaign slogan was: “I’ve got my eye on New Jersey.”

As the driving force in founding Womanspace in 1977, Ms. Sigmund was responding to a need that was brought to light in New Jersey by the 1976 Mercer County Commission on the Status of Women. The most pressing concern of that time for women was spousal abuse, then called “battered wives,” and places where victims could find help and refuge.

Ms. Dang joins a long list of distinguished honorees who have received the official Barbara Boggs Sigmund Award Rose commissioned by Boehm Porcelain exclusively for Womanspace. The porcelain rose is light lilac.

In 1995, the first award honoree was Ms. Sigmund’s younger sister, the ABC political reporter Corrine “Cokie” Boggs Roberts. Ms. Roberts serve as Honorary Chair for this year’s event.

Since then, recipients have been, among others: baseball executive and founder of the Safe At Home Foundation, Joe Torre (2014), author Lee Woodruff (2013), artist Faith Ringgold (2011); sports coach C. Vivian Stringer (2010); women’s economic advocate Nell Merlino (2007); legal correspondent Nina Totenberg (2006); NJN news anchor Kent Manahan (2005); playwright and director of Princeton’s McCarter Theater Emily Mann (2004); crime novelist and head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan DA’s office (1976-2002), Linda Fairstein (2003); survivors of domestic violence Ann, Pat and Sandy (2001); Star Jones, co-host of ABC’s The View (2000); and Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author Anna Quindlen (1999).

Womanspace created the first shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children in Mercer County. It provides the critical services needed by the survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families, including therapeutic counseling for the children affected by family violence. Since its founding, Womanspace has served more than 301,076 adults and children. Programs include crisis intervention, emergency shelter, counseling, court advocacy, housing services, and a 24-hour hotline: (609) 394-9000.

For more information during regular business hours, call (609) 394-0136, or visit: www.womanspace.org.

According to the FBI, people are being are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves in the United States.

For more information, visit:


To report human trafficking or to get help, call (888) 373-7888.

May 6, 2015

After months of contract negotiations between the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and the teachers’s union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), both sides failed to reach a long-hoped for agreement Monday night. Talks broke down after almost five hours in which the two sides met face-to-face without the help of state mediator Kathleen Vogt.

Princeton’s public school teachers have been working under an expired contract since July 1, 2014. Ms. Vogt was called last fall after negotiations reached an impasse. PREA members walked out of an October 2 meeting.

If no agreement can be made in mediation, the next stage of negotiations would call for a fact finder. The expertise of Ms. Vogt, who helped the district and the union deliver the 2011-14 contract, has been provided at no cost to the district or to the union. A fact finder, however, could cost approximately $1,500 per day.

At the BOE’s monthly meeting in February, Board President Andrea Spalla pointed out that the fact-finding process could take anywhere between six and twelve months and the daily cost would be split between the district and PREA.

Negotiations have stalled repeatedly over the issues of health care costs, and after Monday’s meeting, chair of the PREA Negotiations Team John J. Baxter said in a statement to Town Topics: “The Board came into the session with a counter proposal that was essentially unchanged from April 15. They made clear that they would not negotiate Tier 4 premium contributions.

“Ultimately, they [the BOE] came back with a ‘framework’ that appeared to require further devaluation of salaries, for some, and created substantial inequities for many. They were unable to provide specifics or reasonable explanations of the numbers. Nevertheless, they insisted that we come up with a counter proposal,” said Mr. Baxter. “We explained that we would not respond to a ‘conceptual framework’ the implementation of which raised serious questions even they could not answer. In other words, it was impossible to assess what was being offered.”

At this point, it will be up to Ms. Vogt to determine whether a fact finder is to be brought in to try to bring the two sides to resolution.

According to Mr. Baxter, the Board’s position together with the long history of these negotiations, leaves “no viable alternative to fact finding.”

This, at least, may be one point on which the two sides concur. “It is my understanding that the next step will be for the mediator to determine whether to send the matter to the fact-finding stage,” said Ms. Spalla. “Although the board offered the PREA a chance to meet again for a face to face working session on the issues surrounding the salary guide, the PREA ultimately did not agree to another meeting,” she said.

The district and the union have have met face-to-face four times in recent weeks.

The failure of the long drawn out negotiations has provoked anger and sadness on the part of numerous parents, teachers, and district students in recent months who have appeared at Board meetings to express their concerns and to beg both sides to compromise.

PREA members ceased to donate their time to non-paid extra-curricular activities and volunteer work. The action has affected some after-school student clubs and student trips, activities to which teachers’ contribute their own time as opposed to activities for which they get paid.