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:

www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/human_trafficking.

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.

Princeton Public Library is seeking to raise some $1.7 million for a redesign of the second floor that is estimated to cost approximately $2.9 million. At last month’s meeting of the Board of Trustees, Executive Director Leslie Burger said that while some of this money is already in hand, along with a pledge of a $750,000 matching challenge grant, the Library would need to raise some $1.7 million in the coming months for the project to get started.

“We need to raise the money before the project can begin and we hope to do it through private donations,” said Ms. Burger. “We have a proven track record in raising private funds to supplement public support.”

The renovation is thought to be necessary because of the changing needs of the library’s more than 2,200 daily users.

“When the Princeton Public Library opened in the new building 11 years ago we were considered a state of the art library but the world has changed dramatically since then and we are not providing the community with everything they need to be successful,” explained Ms. Burger. “Princeton is a community that values learning and education, the library is an important civic partner supporting those values. Today our library is organized differently, offers opportunities for lifelong learning, serves as a digital portal and information guide to vast amount of information and content, and is a physical space where people come to work, study, learn, and be social.”

The proposed transformation will address needs that are not currently being met, said Ms. Burger. These include: designated quiet study space, more collaborative and co-working work space, a new technology commons area, space for technology instruction and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).

In addition, there will be a more robust network to handle the ever increasing digital load and electrical outlets near every seat and at every table to keep laptops, phones, and other devices charged.

The plan calls for doubling the amount of comfortable seating and a new business center with hi-speed copiers, scanners, large scale printers, and other equipment to support those working away from home of office, as well as additional program and meeting space.

The Library’s Board of Trustees have been discussing the project for some time and plans for the renovation have evolved. “We’ve visited or gathered information from other libraries and gathered community input through several focus groups,” said Ms. Burger.

Library staff conducted focus groups with members of the community earlier in the year. In most instances, responses confirmed the staff’s own observations and recommendations.

“The focus groups confirmed that we are headed in the right direction in terms of responding to community needs,” commented Ms. Burger. “We’ve made a few adjustments based on their input and will continue to make refinements in our plans.”

The most pressing need expressed by users for the second floor is the need for quiet study and small collaborative work spaces that could accommodate between two and three people.

If all goes well, the Library may begin work on the project early next year.

As part of the municipality’s capital improvement program, Valley Road, between Witherspoon and North Harrison streets, will undergo planned improvements in 2016. The work will be partially funded by a New Jersey Department of Transportation municipal aid grant.

Mayor Liz Lempert will chair a discussion of Valley Road in the context of Princeton’s Complete Streets Policy, adopted in 2013, and the town’s master plan, in the Community Room at Witherspoon Hall Tuesday, May 12, at 7 p.m.

The meeting is designed to elicit responses and ideas from local residents. Princeton Engineer Robert Kiser along with representatives from the Police Department and numerous municipal boards, committees, and advisory groups have been invited to share information and insights regarding the roadway and their vision for future improvements.

“We are hoping for feedback as to how the road is functioning and to find out what residents would like to see and what they think needs improving,” said Assistant Engineer Deanna Stockton Monday.

The meeting will take the form of a collaborative work-session with engineers and members of such groups as the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee, Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee, and Traffic and Transportation Committee.

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.

Currently classified as a minor collector roadway, Valley Road 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.

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 occur at Walnut Lane.

The Princeton Master Plan recommends the installation of an off-road multi-use path along Valley Road.

Town arborist Lorraine Konopka has been invited to be on hand should questions arise about the number of large established London plane trees that line Valley Road.

According to an announcement of the meeting from the engineering department, “comments will be evaluated and incorporated into the design as appropriate” and “an additional design meeting may be scheduled in the summer to clarify unresolved design issues.” Otherwise, engineering staff will proceed with the design in order to secure the services of a contractor in late fall for the 2016 construction season.

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

April 29, 2015

On April 16, in a case that could have significant implications for Princeton University and for local taxpayers, a state appeals court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling in favor of four Princeton residents who are challenging the University’s status as a tax exempt non-profit organization.

Public interest lawyer Bruce I. Afran, brought the suit in 2011 on behalf of Kenneth Fields, Mary Ellen Marino, and Joseph and Kathryn King.

In February, tax court judge Vito L. Bianco denied the University’s request to have the lawsuit thrown out. In an attempt to reverse Judge Bianco’s decision, the University had taken the “unusual” step of appealing even before the case had been decided.

“The trial court denied our motion to dismiss the case, but in doing so made no judgment about the merits of the case,” said Robert K. Durkee, Princeton University’s vice president and secretary in an email Friday. “We asked the appeals court to review the trial court decision not to dismiss the case. We knew it was unlikely that the court would hear the appeal, but we believe the law is so clear that we thought it was worth asking for a ruling now.”

Mr. Durkee added that the University would not be appealing the recent higher court’s decision to the state Supreme Court but would instead be preparing for trial.

Mr. Afran, said Friday that the appeals court had also ruled against the University’s attempt to challenge Judge Bianco’s ruling that the University would have to show that it deserved the tax exemption.

“This is hugely significant because the University has to prove that it qualifies for tax exempt status as a non-profit organization and that might be difficult for it to do,” said Mr. Afran. “As a non-profit group it would not be allowed to distribute profits to people with whom it holds patents. The University is involved in a lot of commercial activities, setting itself up as a profit-based business, especially in the sciences and technology. It is using its science and engineering facilities to market products. This is of course a perfectly legal activity, but it is a commercial activity.”

However, in a letter to the editor of the Daily Princetonian last year, which Mr. Durkee said Friday contains a summary of the University’s position with respect to the lawsuit, the University vice-president claimed that it was up to plaintiffs to persuade the court that Princeton [University] has ceased to be an educational institution and instead has become an entity whose dominant motive is to make a profit. “No one can argue in good faith that Princeton’s dominant motive is anything other than to be the best educational institution it can possibly be,” he said.

Citing the federal Bayh-Dole Act (or Patent and Trademark Law Amendments Act), which provides guidance for research universities, Mr. Durkee’s letter stated: “Princeton’s mission is to educate students and generate new knowledge and new ideas. It does these things not only for their own sake, but to serve the public good by preparing and encouraging students from a broad range of backgrounds to aspire to positions of leadership and lives of service, and by making discoveries that lead to advances in a broad range of fields that have a direct impact on the broader society, fields ranging from medicine and the environment to technology and public policy …. Both state and federal tax policies enable educational institutions to maximize the extent to which their revenues can be used to support their missions. The University also generates a small fraction of its budget through patents and royalties, and it similarly invests those revenues to advance its educational mission.

“Even with a successful patent, the revenues that come to the University are dwarfed by the investment the University makes in creating the conditions that allow our faculty to do the research that leads to the ideas that eventually lead to the patent.

“A number of the practices that are being challenged by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are specifically required by Bayh-Dole, and they are followed by research universities throughout the country.”

“This issue is not likely to be concluded in a New Jersey Tax Court,” said Bernie MIller, president of Princeton Council when asked for comment, adding that he would rather not speculate on the outcome and it’s impacts on higher education in the United States or on communities like ours that host major research universities.”

Mr. Afran, however, remains confident. Asked whether he thought the lawsuit could have implications for other university towns and/or for educational institutions claiming tax exempt status across the state and even across the country, he said “Yes, although the potential impact on the taxpayer is hard to know since old assessments are no longer accurate.”

“The issue is not whether the taxpayer will win but how much of the University’s tax exempt status will remain if this goes to trial,” said Mr. Afran. “If the entire campus were valued for tax purposes, this could amount to some $60 million a year; even if only the science facilities were to be taxed, this could be some $30 million a year in taxes. For the average Princeton taxpayer, this could possibly mean a reduction of between 30 and 50 percent on their tax bill.”

“I believe that there is widespread support for this action. There is increasing awareness that today’s universities are “hedge funds masquerading as educational non-profit organizations.” Isn’t it ironic that Princeton University has hired one of the world’s most expensive law firms to defend its non-profit status. They charge about $1200 an hour.”

The University has hired Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. The challenge to its property tax exempt status will be tried in New Jersey tax court, most likely in the early part of 2016.

Princeton Council voted on several initiatives at its meeting Monday night, agreeing to adopt a budget for 2015, send out requests for proposals to update the parking system at the Spring Street garage, and contribute affordable housing funds for a group home to serve adults with disabilities, among other topics.

Lytle Street

After a closed session during which personnel negotiations and other issues were discussed, the governing body heard reports from the police, recreation, and public works departments before getting an update from administrator Marc Dashield on the options surrounding a 19th century house on Lytle Street adjacent to the Mary Moss Park, in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood.

The town had proposed buying 31-33 Lytle Street, demolishing the house on the property, and extending the park, where a small kiddie pool is located and some renovations were already planned. But after protests from several neighborhood residents who opposed tearing down the house, plans were put on hold while other options were explored. The town granted developer Roman Barsky demolition permits last fall but have asked him to wait until a final decision is made. He will need an answer soon, Mr. Dashield said.

Ideally, some residents would like to see the house saved and converted into two affordable housing units. But Mr. Dashield said that option was not viable. He estimated it would cost between $240,000 and $300,000 for each unit, “which is way beyond what we can spend,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s prudent to use money from the affordable housing trust fund for this.” He suggested that the money should be raised privately by a corporation or non-profit organization. Last month, a citizens’ group involved in trying to save the house from demolition proposed a partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

Residents Kip Cherry and Hendricks Davis spoke in favor of saving the house, and Bernadine Hines commented that the neighborhood already has several play areas and doesn’t need another one. Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission recommended to Council last month that the house not be torn down. The town is still waiting for an appraisal. A work session on the  issue will likely take place on May 18.

Parking Garage

With the payment system of the Spring Street Parking Garage next to Princeton Public Library “clearly on its last legs,” Mayor Liz Lempert said, Council took action to expedite a revamping of the technology. The governing body voted unanimously to pass a resolution allowing requests for proposals to go out as soon as possible.

Ms. Lempert said the garage is “the go-to place for folks to park” in town. Problems with credit cards and smart cards getting rejected have caused delays in getting in and out of the garage. “People are just having a really tough time getting the machines to behave the way you would expect them to,” she said.

When the issue was brought to Council last October, assistant municipal engineer Deanna Stockton detailed three options for consideration. Instead of installing meters, which was one of the options, replacing and upgrading the current system was decided to be the best idea. “You’ll never get a ticket in the parking lot, because you never have to worry about exceeding your time,” Ms. Lempert said.

Council hopes to have an update by the May 11 meeting. The upgraded system could be installed in three to four months, said Ms. Stockton.

Budget

Council voted unanimously to adopt a budget for 2015 that includes a tax rate increase of 1.6 cents. The budget is $60.9 million. Homeowners with properties valued at an average of $800,560 could expect their municipal tax bills to go up by $147.

Scott Sillars of the volunteer Citizens Finance Advisory Committee presented the budget to Council, recommending that the town spend no more than $7.1 million on capital projects during the next six years. He projected that the town is in good shape as far as surplus is concerned, and that debt service growth will be 5.2 percent this year. Core revenues are $52,957, and core expenditures are $53,726.

Among the financial challenges the town faces are such large projects as the new headquarters for the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) and improvements to Community Park North.

Hilltop Group Home

Council members voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance allowing the town to use $400,000 in affordable housing trust funds to buy a house at 9 Hilltop Drive and turn it into a group home for adults.

The nonprofit organization Youth Consultation Services will renovate and run the four-bedroom home. New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities, who are of low or moderate income, will be eligible. One room will be reserved for a Princeton resident.

Praising the project as a public/private/non-profit partnership, resident Hendricks Davis said, “It is our responsibility as a community to do all we can to build and sustain all members of the community and provide wholesome, holistic and integrated housing resources for citizens and residents.” He added that the group home could also bring some jobs to town.

MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.(Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org. (Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

Princeton is a place of discovery. Nowhere more so than during Morven in May. Focused on art and artistic creativity both indoors and outdoors, this year’s event will bring a number of extraordinary artists to Princeton for the first time, foremost among them basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow, Mary Jackson of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regarded as a national treasure by museums and private collectors, Mary Jackson, 70, is the nation’s most celebrated maker of sweetgrass baskets. Her work has been bought by Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Empress Michiko.

In addition to sweetgrass, she uses pine needles, palmetto, and bullrush to create baskets that combine traditional techniques and forms with her own distinctly contemporary and elegantly sculptural flair. This is basketry elevated to the level of fine art.

According to a recent article by Joyce Lovelace in American Craft magazine, Ms. Jackson has done much to preserve the strong, pliable sweetgrass of her native South Carolina. As founding president of the Mount Pleasant Sweetgrass Basket Makers Association, she worked to see that plants that would have been destroyed by development were saved and transplanted on preserved land.

Ms. Jackson’s ancestors brought the tradition from West Africa some 300 years ago and handed it down through the generations in the Gullah community. Ms. Jackson was taught by her mother and grandmother. In 1984, she was invited to show her work at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C.

Her pièce de résistance is an enormous shallow basket, with a plume of raw grass flowing out of it, that has a diameter of 3.5 feet. It took three years to complete for a private client who has it hanging on a wall as a single piece of dramatic artwork. According to Ms. Lovelace, a photo of the basket is on the cover of the interior design book Simplicity by Nancy Braithwaite.

Other newcomers are the decorative porcelain sculptor, Katherine Houston of Boston (a short video of her work can be viewed at: http://katherinehouston.com/video/) and glass artist Martin Kremer from Pound Ridge, New York. One other Southern artist is Lynn Pollard from Atlanta, Georgia, whose work with indigo on handmade paper can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJTKckf5tsk.

“In the craft show world, Morven in May has really begun to make a name for itself among the top artists,” said Director of Development Barbara Webb. The museum’s largest event of the year, Morven in May raises over $100,000 in support for the exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs at National Historic Landmark that was formerly the official residence of the New Jersey governor.

This year, 125 fine craft artists from all corners of the Unites States applied. Only 35 were selected, but that number represents a substantial increase from last year’s 25 participants. The selections were made by Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward, art auctioneer David Rago, and Veronica Roberts, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

The beautifully crafted art objects will be displayed in gallery-style booths under a grand tent on the museum’s Great Lawn. Visitors will find many returning artists whose work they enjoyed last year in glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, furniture, jewelry, wood, and mixed media. Furniture designer Barry Newstat from Chicago, will be returning, as will textile artist Erin Wilson from Brooklyn.

Besides the exhibition and sale, festivities will include an heirloom plant sale with unique perennials and annuals ready to plant.

The event begins Friday evening, May 1, with a preview party catered by chef Max Hansen, author of the best-selling cookbook, Smoked Salmon, Delicious Innovative Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2003).

Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or at: www.morven.org.

Tickets, which may be purchased at the tent entrance for Saturday and Sunday, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free.

The 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden will take place at Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, this weekend from Friday through Sunday, May 1 to May 3. Hours are Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A full list of the 2015 Morven in May exhibitors and images of their work is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.

April 22, 2015
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello!(Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello! (Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

The Princeton University Marching Band and those madcap Stone Soup Circus people are set to entertain the 40,000 visitors expected to attend this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26.

Between 1 and 6 p.m. the Arts Council of Princeton, in collaboration with Princeton University and the municipality, will turn the town into a giant outdoor music festival and market for the 45th Annual Communiversity ArtsFest along Nassau and Witherspoon Streets, on the Palmer Square Green and on the University campus in front of Nassau Hall.

The festival draws local and student performers, artists and crafters, chefs, merchants, community groups, and volunteers in celebration of Town and Gown with over 200 booths showcasing original art, contemporary crafts, unique merchandise, and food. Non-stop live entertainment for all ages will take place on six stages.

There will be music from returning artists Big Wake, Princeton School of Rock, Canto Del Sur, and The Shaxe. Up-and-coming newcomers are regional artists Lauren Marsh and Underwater Sounds. Other performers include Sarah Donner, The Blue Meanies, Sheltered Turtle, Yang Yi Guzheng Academy Ensemble, and the Princeton Girlchoir.

If you’ve been curious about how your name would look in Arabic script, the Arts Council’s newest Artist in Residence, Faraz Kahn, will enlighten you. Stop by his spot on Palmer Square Green to learn the rudiments of Arabic calligraphy and contribute your name to a pennant that will be featured in an outdoor display.

If you’ve longed to see the inside of the Chestnut Street Fire House, now is your chance. Members of the artists group Art+10 will be painting portraits of firefighters, their fire trucks and equipment between 1 and 5:30 p.m. at an open house for Princeton Engine Company No. 1, which dates to 1794. The station houses a rich collection of memorabilia and the paintings will be for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to the Fire Company.

Come hungry as there will be plenty to eat from local chefs. Vendors include D’Angelo Italian Market, Elements, Mistral, House of Cupcakes, Mamoun’s Falafel, Mediterra, Nomad Pizza, The Taco Truck, Triumph Brewing, Winberies, the Witherspoon Grill, and Blue Point Grill, to name but a small selection of what will be offered.

As usual there will be a large contingent of non-profit organizations presenting their causes and over 40 artists will showcase their individual and group talents. Dance performances will feature American Repertory Ballet/Princeton  Ballet School, the YWCA dance troupe, Lisa Botalico Fiesta Flamenca. Ballet Folklorico, Raks Odalisque, and others.

At the East Pyne Arch on the University campus there will be a cappella singing from student groups Old NasSoul, Tigerlilies, Katzenjammers, Wildcats, Acapellago, and others throughout the afternoon.

Princeton University’s radio station, WPRB 103.3 FM, will celebrate 75 years in broadcasting on the Chambers Street stage. According to its website, the student-run station was one of the first college radio stations in the country and began in 1940 as WPRU, “broadcasting through the heating pipes of a Princeton University dorm.” (Check out its history on wprb.com.)

Street performances will take place throughout downtown and visitors will be able to encounter art at almost every turn with visual artists in action throughout the day at several locations with ACP faculty members demonstrating different techniques and media.

Kids will be happy to see the ever-popular “Nana’s-Make-A-Mess” with an assortment of materials to inspire original artwork and Sidewalk Chalk at Tiger Park on Palmer Square.

History

The Town and Gown celebration began in 1971 when the Arts Council of Princeton held “The Art People’s Party” with musicians, artists and crafters. In 1974, the annual party was held on the McCarter Theater grounds and was dedicated in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday. In 1976, when it was held on the Washington Road Bridge, festival attendees arrived by boat.

When students from Princeton University joined the party in 1985, the name “Communiversity” was coined. Over the years, highlights have included a giant banana split fundraiser in 1987 and a “Communiversity Brew” from Triumph Brewing in 2001.

In 1991, the event drew a crowd of some 10,000 people. In recent years that number has grown to four times as many.

Paint Out Princeton

In 2013, the Arts Council introduced Paint Out Princeton to great success and this time around, local painters will be at their easels around town painting scenes of the day. The painting en plein air will continue for the second year in a row on Sunday May 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Morven Museum and Garden during the Morven in May festival from May 1 through May 3. Visitors will be able to see artists at work (register by emailing: info@artscouncilofprinceton.org) and the artwork produced at Communiversity and at Morven will be displayed in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts through May 9, with a closing reception from 3 to 5 p.m.

Town Topics

Be sure to stop by and say hello to the staff at the Town Topics booth located on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers. Witherspoon Media Group is a proud media sponsor of the event and will be receiving entries for its Youth Poetry Contest on the theme of “What Princeton Means to Me.” Student poets should drop off their poems to the Town Topics table before 5 p.m. Submission should include name, age, grade, and school. Don’t forget to title your poem and include a contact phone number. Winning poems will be published in an upcoming issue of Town Topics newspaper.

Parking

In addition to street parking where it can be found, parking garages can be accessed via Hulfish and Chambers Streets. The Spring Street garage can be also accessed via Wiggins Street as well.

The owner and operator of Princeton Shopping Center, EDENS, is sponsoring a Communiversity shuttle that will transport passengers from the Princeton Shopping Center to the festival entrance at the corner of Wiggins and Witherspoon streets between from 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. Visitors can park for free at the Shopping Center and take the shuttle. Signage will be posted at the various pick-up locations.

Additional free parking can be found in Princeton University’s parking lots, which will be open during the event. For more information, visit: www.princeton.edu/parking.

For more information on Communiversity, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call (609) 924-8777.

Members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and representatives of the teacher union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) met face-to-face for the third time in recent weeks last Wednesday.

In spite of positive expectations on both sides following their earlier meeting on April 9, no agreement has yet been announced. Instead, yet another session with the state-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt has been scheduled for May 4.

“The parties remain in mediation as a legal matter, so the Board continues to adhere to the mediator’s confidentiality recommendation regarding the details of the discussions,” said School Board President Andrea Spalla.

“In addition to that agreed-upon mediation session, the Board team offered the PREA two other possible face-to-face meeting dates. We’re waiting for their response to those dates,” she said.

After the April 15 talks, union negotiator John Baxter sent the following statement to Town Topics: “Our meeting with the Board ended late Wednesday night. We thought progress had been made. The Board agreed that progress had been made, but then they insisted on bringing back the mediator on May 4. The Board could not explain why face-to-face negotiations are unsatisfactory and their decision certainly came as a shock to us given the praise they have publicly heaped upon these sessions. This is a bitter disappointment given that we made essentially no progress in our four sessions with the mediator. The Board further stated they are not available to meet prior to May 4 as we had hoped. We asked the Board to reconsider its decision.”

But according to Ms. Spalla, PREA agreed to a May 4 mediation session and it was not the sole decision of the Board to include Ms. Vogt.

Princeton’s teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 2014. The long drawn out negotiations have repeatedly foundered on the issues of health insurance contributions and salary increases.

Parents have called on both sides to compromise and have appeared before BOE monthly meetings to support the teachers. In a Letter to the Editor in this week’s Mailbox, PREA President Joanne Ryan thanks parents, students, community members, and local businesses for their support.

“The parties are making progress, although we recognize that it is happening more slowly than the community would prefer,” commented Ms. Spalla. “The Board team hopes to keep pushing forward, using the resources available to support and guide the parties.”

The BOE is also in negotiations with its other two bargaining units: PRESSA, which represents support staff, and PAA, which represents district administrators. While pointing out that those negotiations are also subject to confidentiality agreements, Ms. Spalla was able to say that the BOE team is “pleased with the progress being made in those discussions.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School, 217 Walnut Lane. The agenda will include public comment as well as a vote on the 2015-16 Schools Budgets.

NJ Transit wants to eliminate bus service between Princeton and the University Medical Center on Route 1 as part of cost-saving measures. The move would also include a hike of approximately nine percent in fares for trains and buses.

A public hearing on the proposal is set for Thursday, May 21 at the Trenton Transit Center, 72 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The agency claims that ridership has been low on the bus between the town and the hospital, and if the measure is approved it would stop service on September 1. The bus route was introduced when the hospital moved from Witherspoon Street to Plainsboro.

According to Mayor Liz Lempert, the town is committed to continuing transportation in some form between Princeton and the hospital.

“Whatever the outcome, the municipality will be working closely with officials from NJ Transit, Plainsboro, and Mercer County as well as the hospital and Princeton University to make sure that a transit link is preserved between Princeton and the new hospital, and that residents who need medical care are able to get to the hospital clinic for treatment,” she said in a written statement on Monday.

NJ Transit cites increased costs of healthcare and benefits, general liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and pensions as reasons for the proposed changes. “Although NJ Transit has identified more than $40 million in reductions in overtime, fuel savings, energy, and vehicle parts efficiencies, the agency still faces an approximate $60 million budget gap for the 2016 fiscal year,” a press release said. “To close the gap, fare and service adjustments are being proposed.”

The agency has planned nine public hearings and one information session before its board convenes to vote on July 8. Fares would rise as of October 1 if approved. Currently, it costs $29.50 roundtrip to travel between Princeton Junction and New York’s Penn Station. The measure would raise the fare to about $32.

Officials from the hospital, which has been subsidizing the bus service, issued a statement saying they will keep funding it if the decision is made to keep it running.

“We are actively working with other area organizations, including NJ Transit, to develop even more transportation solutions so that community members can have additional options for convenient access to the Princeton Health campus,” the statement reads. “PHCS remains committed to finding access solutions for the residents living in the neighborhood of the former hospital site.”

Among the other options available are Princeton University’s Tiger Transit. Seniors and people who have disabilities are also eligible for free transportation to and from the hospital.

In addition to the public hearings, comments can be submitted online by visiting www.njtransit.com, or by mail to Public Hearing Office, Fare Proposal Comments, 1 Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ 07105.

April 15, 2015

An alumnus of Princeton University has donated $10 million for the 23,000-square-foot Music Building that will be part of the arts complex currently under construction near University Place and Alexander Street. The donor and his wife have remained anonymous for now, but the building will eventually be named by them.

“Attending Princeton was a formative experience,” said the donor in a statement issued Monday by the University. “It was there that I developed a deep and lasting interest in the arts. When my wife and I visited campus and witnessed the engagement, curiosity, and passion of so many students in so many areas of arts study, the decision to be a part of the team in promoting the arts at Princeton was an easy one. We believe that all students should have access to the arts and to the music program as part of the unique educational experience of Princeton.”

The three-story building, designed by architect Steven Holl, will house the University’s Department of Music and the Lewis Center for the Arts, which is currently operating out of a building at 185 Nassau Street. With a performance and rehearsal space, acoustically advanced practice rooms, teaching studios, and a digital recording studio, there will be room for increased and enhanced programming.

Dance activities will be located at the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, which was donated by Monte and Neil Wallace, members of the classes of 1953 and 1955, respectively. Administrative and faculty offices and an art gallery will be housed in a tower next to the music building, which will provide supplementary space at the 47,000-square-foot Woolworth Center of Musical Studies near the center of the campus.

The $320 million arts complex was launched in 2006 when then President Shirley M. Tilghman announced plans to substantially increase arts activities on campus, including establishment of an arts neighborhood. Late alumnus Peter B. Lewis, a 1955 graduate and trustee, contributed $101 million to help launch the initiative.

As part of the project, the Princeton Dinky train station has been relocated 460 feet south of its former location. The new station opened last November. A restaurant and cafe planned for the historic, former station buildings was to be operated by the Terra Momo Group, but the company withdrew from the project last January. A new operator has yet to be selected.

“This splendid gift will benefit our student musicians and the audiences who come to hear them,” University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said of the recent donation. “The additional space is an essential element in enabling our arts intiatitve — launched less than a decade ago — to flourish. We are excited about seeing the arts at Princeton reach their full potential, and we are grateful to our generous alumni and friends for helping to make it possible.”

Students at the American Boychoir School will finish the academic year earlier than usual due to the school’s precarious financial situation, according to a letter that went out to supporters on Monday. The school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Friday.

A letter from Board of Trustees chairman Rob D’Avanzo announcing the decision stated that $350,000 was needed in order for the school to complete the academic year. Since then, gifts and pledges totaling $82,400 С 24 percent of the goal С have been received. The second letter from Mr. D’Avanzo urged those who have made pledges to “Й be sure that your funds follow quickly: get that check in the mail or simply go to our secure website to make your donation now.”

For those who have supported previous emergency fundraising efforts, “…this time is different,” he wrote. “We have no safety net. Without an immediate infusion of cash, we will be forced to close our doors quickly.” The letter goes on to say that “funding permitting,” the school will end its academic year the weekend of May 16-17. The school usually holds a much-anticipated graduation the second weekend in June.

Staff members of the organization could not be reached for comment.

The renowned Boychoir School was founded in 1937 in Columbus, Ohio and has been located in Princeton since 1950. Boys in grades four to eight are selected from across the country to train for the concert boys’ choir, considered among the nation’s finest. The choir has performed with such ensembles as The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Boston Symphony, under the batons of such conductors as James Levine, Charles Dutoit, and Alan Gilbert.

A 2014 film titled Boychoir starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, and Debra Winger, based on the school, failed to gain national distribution after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. The film featured performances by the choristers and appearances by staff members.

The choir is currently on tour in Texas. A quote from Mr. D’Avanzo’s letter demonstrates the gravity of the financial situation: “On Saturday, flight delays into Dallas caused an unexpected hotel stay, with our weary travelers arriving in Abilene after midnight,” he wrote. “Our hosts made arrangements and paid for the hotel. Thanks to their generous spirit, we avoided what could have been a damaging hit to our finances, and our boys performed for this appreciative audience at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.”

The Boychoir sold Albemarle, its longtime Princeton location, the former estate of pharmaceutical magnate Gerard Lambert, for $6 million in January of 2013. The school moved to the Princeton Center for Arts and Education, on the campus of the former St. Joseph’s Seminary on Mapleton Road in Plainsboro, where it became lead tenant on the multi-school campus it originally shared with the Wilberforce School and the French American School of Princeton. Wilberforce moved to West Windsor in September, 2014.

Members of the teachers’s union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), and parent supporters turned out to celebrate Princeton’s “lighthouse district” schools last week just prior to the April 9 session between union negotiators and members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE).

The event, described as a Community Unity Rally, brought a festive feeling to the lawn in front of the district administration building on Valley Road with more than 200 people attending.

They heard a statement from Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) read by Kari Osmond and remarks by guest speaker Shirley Satterfield; teacher Bryan McKenna played guitar and sang, and members of the Princeton University Juggling Club performed.

PREA solicited and received many donations from area businesses including Bon Appetit, Hoagie Haven, Terra Momo Learning Kitchen, Bai, Olives, House of Cupcakes, Tico’s Juice Bar, and Jazams, among others. Picture books were collected for the Princeton Nursery School and non-perishable food items for the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County.

PREA Chief Negotiator John Baxter and PREA President Joanne Ryan addressed the crowd before sitting down with their BOE counterparts. The two sides had failed to reach agreement when they met face-to-face on Thursday, March 26.

But some parents see the fact that the most recent negotiating sessions have been conducted without the help of state-appointed mediator Kathy Vogt, Esq. as a positive sign. Parent and Save our Schools member Jennifer Lea Cohan described the face-to-face nature of the meetings as “encouraging.”

This is the second time the two sides have met without Ms. Vogt since March 26, which BOE negotiator Patrick Sullivan described as “a constructive negotiation session” that had resulted in “material progress on the key issues of salary and benefits.” After the March 26 talks, Mr. Sullivan said “I think it is fair to say that both sides are happy with the progress we made last night.”

PREA negotiator Mr. Baxter seemed to agree. “The face-to-face negotiation session on March 26 was a more efficient, effective way of communicating and working compared to the mediation format,” he said. “Questions were asked and answers provided, or areas needing work to provide answers were identified.”

While neither side would reveal details of their recent talks, it seems clear that progress is being made. They are due to meet again today, April 15.

So far, neither side has requested to move to the fact-finding stage, which would follow mediation if no progress was being made.

Since July 1, teachers in Princeton’s public schools have been working under the terms of their previous 2011-2014 contract.

“Patrick [Sullivan] and I both feel that the parties made meaningful progress towards compromise on March 26 and again on April 9 with respect to the key open items of salaries and health benefits,” commented Board President Andrea Spalla yesterday. “The Board team is eager for our April 15 meeting so we can continue to work towards a resolution.”

April 8, 2015

Town Topics has moved from its most recent home on Witherspoon Street to the historic Union Line Building in Kingston.

“We outgrew our office on Witherspoon Street,” said publisher Lynn Adams Smith. “The move doubles our square footage, giving us ample storage for magazines and newspapers, and triples our number of parking spaces; it not only meets our current needs, it gives us room to expand.”

The move also takes Princeton’s Community Newspaper back into an historic building of similar vintage to the one it left eight years ago when it relocated from 4 Mercer Street. Town Topics had occupied the red-brick building that had previously been Priest’s Pharmacy, for most of the years since its founding in 1946 until 2007. Even today the site is referred to as “the old Town Topics building.”

That building and the paper’s new location stand almost as bookends to Princeton, one at the southern end of Nassau Street close to the intersection with Route 206 and the other on Route 27 just beyond the northern end of town at the crossroads in Kingston.

Founded by Princeton University graduates Donald Stuart and his brother-in-law Dan Coyle together with Don’s wife Emily and Dan’s wife Mary, Town Topics was run as a family business until it was sold to current publisher Lynn Adams Smith in 2001.

Ms. Smith took over the running of the paper with the help of a small group of newspaper employees and Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier, as investors. “I will always be appreciative that Jeb Stuart trusted me to carry on the Town Topics tradition and grateful to Bob for his support,” said Ms. Smith.

Having assured its former owners that Town Topics would retain its independence and not become part of a chain, Ms. Smith has maintained the  newspaper’s look while expanding into new print media. Town Topics is now part of the Witherspoon Media Group, which also publishes Princeton Magazine and Urban Agenda: New York City.

Light-filled Space

The newspaper’s new headquarters dates to 1878 when the Union Line Hotel was erected to serve stage coach traffic between Philadelphia and New York City. The hotel replaced an earlier hostelry, the Withington Inn, which had been destroyed by fire. More recently the building was home to Tuscan Hills.

According to historian Jeanette K. Muser, author of the 1998 pictorial history, Rocky Hill, Kingston and Griggstown, the new Town Topics building sits on what used to be known as the King’s Highway. Following the route of a once-narrow trail formed by Lenni Lenape traveling between the Delaware and Raritan rivers, the road linked New York City and Philadelphia. In 1913, it became part of the Lincoln Highway, the coast-to-coast road that was the result of a national effort to encourage automobile traffic. An interesting history by Ms. Muser of the Kingston area is available online: www.kingstongreenways.org/history.html.

Remodeled by owners Carlo and Raoul Momo in 2009, the building has 4,248 square feet of space on three floors with a basement. It retains its vintage appeal through custom mahogany doors, covered porches, and pine flooring.

“It is fabulous to have Town Topics here in Kingston where we opened our Eno Terra restaurant in 2008 as a companion to our Princeton restaurants; we feel that the histories of Kingston and Princeton are entwined. In fact if you consider that the king is traditionally more important than the prince, what does that tell you about Kingston?” said Raoul Momo.

The Momos are something of champions for the village of Kingston. If Raoul Momo had his way it would be annexed and joined to the municipality of Princeton. “The history of this place is amazing,” he enthused Tuesday while stopping by to welcome the new tenants, “but the bureaucratic hurdles are complex — Kingston comes under four municipalities: South Brunswick, Plainsboro, Franklin Township, and Princeton and it straddles three counties: Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset.”

As entrepreneurs, the Momo brothers faced numerous hurdles when they acquired Kingston’s former Wine Press building. Because there was insufficient parking to serve the anticipated needs of employees, they were required to buy the Union Line Hotel property at 4438 Route 27, which had ample parking in the rear.

Access to parking is now one of the aspects of the move to the new location most appreciated by Town Topics staffers. “It’s a relief to be able to throw away our complicated shared parking roster now that we have parking for everyone and for visitors too,” said Operations Manager Melissa Bilyeu, who has been with the company for more than a decade.

“The new building is filled with light from morning until we leave at night; it has so much more storage too,” said Ms. Bilyeu who coordinated the move from Witherspoon Street. “It was a challenge to get it all done smoothly but we did it and this new space will allow everyone to work at full capacity, and this location offers easy access to Princeton and to Route 1.”

The entire advertising department is located on the first floor in a large open-plan light-filled space with buttermilk yellow walls, masses of windows, a brick fireplace, and wide passageways. “It’s more our style,” said Advertising Director Robin Broomer, who has been with the company for 12 years.

“This space has a wonderful atmosphere and it’s so much easier to communicate with one another,” said newcomer Cybill Tascarella.

Kendra Russell, however, who’s been on the staff for a year and a half, is miffed that she can no longer cycle to work. “It’s not such a safe ride along route 27 but it’s worth it for the space.”

Jennifer Covill agreed. “This improved space is a reminder of how far we have come as Witherspoon Media Group. In the six years that I’ve worked here, we’ve evolved and that will continue here,” she said.

One other task the new tenants had was to have the building wired to meet the needs of a media company. That has pleased Steve Marks, who has been with the company for 12 years. As well as working in the composing room, he’s the go-to IT guy, so it’s no surprise that he thinks the most significant change at the newspaper in recent years is the addition of magazines and the newspaper’s online presence.

The best part of the move from Art Director Jeff Tryon’s point of view is having the writers and the production staff in adjoining rooms. “That’s good for productivity and once we get some carpeting to go under our chairs we’ll be able to stop rolling into the middle of the room,” he laughed. “One of the quirks of being in a historic building is that the floors are not exactly level,” said Mr. Tryon, who has been with Town Topics since 2010 and works on both magazines as well.

After 25 years with Town Topics, Julie Gonzalez-Lavin is one of the few staffers who remember the newspaper at the beginning of its transformation into the digital age. “I came in when Town Topics had just acquired its first computer and I recall the infamous ‘wing mailer,’” a mid-1940s labeling machine that was still in operation when Ms. Smith first joined the paper. “I got tennis elbow using that machine and it was a relief to my arm when the printer took on the task,” Ms. Smith recalled.

“It’s nice to be back in a building that has a rich history, and perhaps even a ghost or two; who knows; perhaps we’ll find out,” said Ms. Gonzalez-Lavin, referring to the legend that 4 Mercer Street is haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Priest, wife of the owner of Priest’s Pharmacy.

“Princeton is an incredible place, Town Topics’s readers are interested in issues that go well beyond municipal boundaries. Town Topics reaches many parts of the greater Princeton area. All of that will continue in our new location,” said Ms. Smith, adding that she will miss some aspects of the old location, such as “hearing and seeing the kids coming and going at Community Park School and witnessing the changes that are to come along the Witherspoon Street corridor.”

Distributed free to every household in Princeton, and to parts of Hopewell, West Windsor, Lawrence, Pennington, Skillman, and South Brunswick, Town Topics will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016.

The newspaper will have a table at this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. and the staff invites readers to stop by and say hello. The same goes for the new building.