March 18, 2015

If the average Princeton home owner could guarantee that all students at Princeton High School could have all the teaching they needed for a few dollars more on their annual property tax bill, would they begrudge the extra amount?

This was one consideration among many that came up when members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) got down to the nitty-gritty with Superintendent Steve Cochrane and Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy at a budget workshop last Thursday in advance of Tuesday night’s Board meeting.

The BOE was scheduled to vote on a tentative school budget that, if approved, could see local property taxes increase beyond the two percent cap mandated by the state. The increase is possible because the district is eligible for waivers due to increased costs of healthcare and rising enrollment. Although the vote took place after Town Topics press deadline, budget details were posted on the district’s website Friday.

“School budgets are not about dollars, they are about children; they are about balancing priorities,” said Mr. Cochrane at the annual workshop, which was open to and attended by members of the public and teachers.

The district’s goals, said Mr. Cochrane, included: maintaining class sizes in the face of rising enrollment; a fair and reasonable salary increase for all staff; and limiting the impact on tax payers.

“We budget as tight as we can on non-instructional items before we go to instructional items,” said Ms. Kennedy, who described the budget as “fluid,” constantly being adjusted and reviewed during a process that starts in fall and culminates in a tentative proposal for the annual budget workshop in March.

This year, she said, the Board had to decide whether to go above the state-mandated two percent cap on property taxes by means of two state-approved waivers: a health benefit waiver amounting to $413,110 and a rising enrollment waiver which would amount to some $1.7 million.

The district is eligible for the health waiver, which it last qualified for in 2011-12, because of increased health benefits costs. In that year, taxes also increased beyond the two percent cap to 2.85 percent. The district is eligible for the enrollment waiver because of an increase in the number of students. It is anticipated that 60 students will be added at the high school alone said Mr. Cochrane.

The enrollment waiver could be raised in its entirety during the 2015-16 tax year or over the course of the next three years. Ms. Kennedy advised that taking the entire amount in the first year might not be approved at the county level. Her recommendation was to apply the full health benefit waiver and a portion of the rising enrollment waiver, roughly one third of the $1.7 million that could be raised through the eligible cap adjustment. The money raised in the first year would be used to pay for textbooks (approximately $92,500), computers (approximately $92,500), and to hire three new teachers at the high school (approximately $240,000).

At the workshop, Ms. Kennedy sought direction from Board members as to their preferences with respect to balancing the budget. The pros and cons of various strategies were discussed at length along with the impact on taxes to Princeton homeowners.

Tax Impact

If the tentative budget with the two waivers was approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the average homeowner with a property valued at $800,560 would see an annual increase in property taxes of $179 as opposed to an increase of $141 if the two percent cap was maintained. With both waivers in play, the tax levy would be 2.39 percent.

After Mr. Cochrane had described a list of new staffing requests amounting to $734,000 from Princeton’s school principals, Board member Patrick Sullivan wondered what the impact on taxes would be if the district were to add more of the items from the district’s “wish list.” What would be the impact of adding a teacher to the high school? A teacher with a health care plan was estimated to cost some $80,000, which would mean another three dollars on the annual tax bill of the average Princeton homeowner, taking the increase from $179 to $181. Board members differed as to whether they thought this would be acceptable to taxpayers.

Board member Tom Hagedorn, addressing Mr. Cochrane, said: “Our first obligation is to protect students and we appreciate your consideration of taxpayers but if there are real needs we should address them.”

According to BOE President Andrea Spalla, Mr. Cochrane, Ms. Kennedy and individual Board members would “welcome input from the public via email” in advance of their final budget approval vote scheduled to take place at a public hearing on April 28.

One member of the public questioned the district’s timeline. “Why is the vote on the final budget taken on the same evening that members of the public are invited to give public comment,” she asked, suggesting that the Board might benefit from public comment well before it has to give final approval rather than just prior to the vote.

Town Topics put this question to Ms. Spalla, who explained by email that the annual budget process and timeline “is based on key dates as set by state law and regulations.”

“Stephanie and her staff do an immense amount of work to develop the draft budget in preparation for the budget workshop, and many key dollar numbers (healthcare cost estimates, state aid amounts, charter school obligations, to name the biggest) are not even received by the district until late February or the first week of March,” she said. “Until those amounts are received and confirmed, Stephanie cannot begin the many analyses required for the Board’s budget discussions. Thus, our budget workshop — which has to happen before tentative budget approval — could not have occurred any earlier than this past week.”

“The deadline by which tentative budgets must be approved by the Board and then submitted to the Executive County Superintendent is March 20,” she continued, adding that members of the public are welcome to offer suggestions to Ms. Kennedy, Superintendent Cochrane and BOE Members before the budget is submitted to the county for approval on that date.

Members of the public have six weeks to review and comment on the budget before it is finalized by the Board on April 28.

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Michael Graves, who died last week at the age of 80, was among the most influential architects of his era, both locally and internationally. His admirers have celebrated him not only for his buildings that helped define the postmodern movement, and the hundreds of household products he designed, but also for his long tenure as a professor at Princeton University.

March 16, 2015

Princeton Resident Dr. Nancy Snyderman has stepped down from her position as chief medical editor for NBC News. “Covering the Ebola epidemic last fall in Liberia, and then becoming part of the story upon my return to the U.S., contributed to my decision that now is the time to return to academic medicine,” she said in a statement indicating her return to academic medicine by taking up a faculty position at a major U.S. medical school. “I have loved my nine years at NBC and I am proud of the work my team has done. Very few people get the chance to combine two professions and I have appreciated the chance to inform the public about medical updates and the plight of so many in other countries. Every moment has been an honor,” she said.

March 12, 2015

M GravesMichael Graves, the Princeton-based, internationally known architect and designer regarded as an important representative of new urbanism, died Thursday morning at the age of 80.

Mr. Graves ran Michael Graves & Associates from an office on Nassau Street. He was also the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture, Emeritus, at Princeton University. Locally, he designed the expansion of the Arts Council of Princeton building on Witherspoon Street as well as several private residences. Internationally, Mr. Graves’s firm designed buildings in Singapore, Japan, and Egypt.

He was also involved in product design, creating a range of consumer products for home and office use, including a line of products sold by Target stores. He taught at Princeton University for 39 years, starting in 1962.

A more extensive story will appear in the next print issue of Town Topics Newspaper.

March 11, 2015
TWO DECADES OF DANCE: American Repertory Ballet’s artistic director Douglas Martin works with former Rider University student Jennifer Gladney, who graduated in 2006.(Photo by George Jones)

TWO DECADES OF DANCE: American Repertory Ballet’s artistic director Douglas Martin works with former Rider University student Courtney Schumacher, who graduated in 2013. (Photo by George Jones)

Ballet students in search of a college education often have a hard time finding a school that will allow them to continue serious study of the rigorous technique while providing them with an academic education. Many universities that offer dance major programs are focused more on contemporary styles than classical ballet.

But Rider University has a different approach. The Lawrenceville campus partners with the Princeton Ballet School to offer advanced classes and a strong connection with the school — and its affiliated American Repertory Ballet (ARB) company — to students majoring in dance. That relationship will be honored on Saturday, March 21 when ARB holds its 30th annual gala performance and reception at Crossroads Theatre in New Brunswick. Rider will receive the 2015 Audree Estey Award for Excellence in Dance Education (Estey was the founder in 1954 of the ballet company, then called Princeton Ballet Society).

“This is an amazing partnership,” said Vanessa Logan, who last August came from the Boston Ballet to become ARB’s executive director. “We are able to share our teachers and our dancers with Rider’s students, and they provide us with a space to perform. It’s wonderful to be connected to such a great institution. It was a long time coming.”

The arrangement allows some 48 Rider students not only to take classes at Princeton Ballet School’s spacious studios at Princeton Shopping Center, but also to explore internships with the school, ballet company, and other arts organizations in the area. The students perform with the Rider Dance Ensemble on the Lawrenceville campus, with ARB in its “Nutcracker,” and with ARB’s Ballet Workshop, part of Princeton Ballet School’s pre-professional training program. Many pursue teaching and administrative dance careers, some become professional performers, and others go on to graduate study in such fields as dance therapy.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Lisa de Ravel, the ballet school’s dean of students and a former dancer with ARB. “Rider is really unique because of the way the program is structured. Allowing the students to do a lot of their work on campus but then take ballet with us here, at our extraordinary facility with our great faculty, is very special and makes it a kind of performance model. They get the best of both worlds.”

Ms. de Ravel joined ARB in 1988 and started teaching early in her career. After retirement from dancing, she started ARB’s “Plus” program, which is a conservatory within the school for dancers heading toward a professional career. After her dancing days ended, she went to Rutgers University and earned a degree in child and adolescent development. “As dean of students I’m responsible for things like mentoring and advising our high schoolers in the more intense program, and working with moms,” she said.

Programs similar to the Rider/ARB partnership are starting to take hold in other areas of the country. Ms. de Ravel cited the Boston Ballet’s arrangement with Northeastern University as an example. In her 26 years with ARB, Ms. de Ravel has witnessed the Rider program’s success, much of which she credits to the dance department chair, Professor Kim Chandler Vaccaro. “I’ve had the opportunity to see these extraordinary young people come through the program and then do great things,” she said. “One is now a faculty member with us.”

The March 21 gala celebration is not only honoring Rider, but also those who have helped with 30 years of gala leadership. Ms. de Ravel, who is also ARB’s alumni relations coordinator, has been busy interviewing past participants for a film whose trailer will be shown at the event. “I like to celebrate not only those who have gone on to professional dance careers, like Sean Mahoney, who is now with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, but also people who have worked for decades in this organization. How do you keep that feeling as you grow? That’s something that Audree Estey knew. She had a pulse on that, from the beginning. And that’s what we’re celebrating.”

LEARNING IN 3-D: For the fifth year in a row, John Witherspoon Middle School is the recipient of an ExxonMobil National Math and Science Initiative grant of $500. The grant was presented by gasoline sales manager Joseph Hooven to PPS science supervisor Cherry Sprague, who accepted the gift on behalf of the school. This year’s grant will be used to further enhance the flourishing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program at JW. Left to right: seventh grader Isai Onofrio, Mr. Hooven, Ms. Sprague, JW STEM teacher Randy Casey, and seventh grader Tracy Meng.

LEARNING IN 3-D: For the fifth year in a row, John Witherspoon Middle School is the recipient of an ExxonMobil National Math and Science Initiative grant of $500. The grant was presented by gasoline sales manager Joseph Hooven to PPS science supervisor Cherry Sprague, who accepted the gift on behalf of the school. This year’s grant will be used to further enhance the flourishing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program at JW. Left to right: seventh grader Isai Onofrio, Mr. Hooven, Ms. Sprague, JW STEM teacher Randy Casey, and seventh grader Tracy Meng.

After being suspended with pay for a week, Princeton’s long-serving animal control officer Mark Johnson is no longer employed by the municipality as of March 2.

But the terms of what Town Administrator Marc Dashield described as “separated employment” have not been disclosed. It is unclear from the terminology used by the municipality whether Mr. Johnson voluntarily resigned or whether his employment was “terminated.”

Mr. Dashield would give no explanation to Town Topics with respect to the matter after it was raised during Mayor Liz Lempert’s regular press briefing Monday. He said he could not discuss the terms of the separation.

The news came not long after Mr. Johnson’s suspension on February 23, the same day on which charges he had brought against a Princeton resident had been dismissed in Princeton Municipal Court. The timing led some to wonder whether Mr. Johnson had been suspended because he had written tickets which were later questioned. But in an online article in Planet Princeton yesterday, Krystal Knapp attributed Mr. Johnson’s suspension and later departure as being due to the municipality’s discovery that it was unaccountably low on rabies vaccine.

On Monday Mr. Johnson said that his employment with the municipality had been “terminated” but would not comment further.

Mr. Dashield would say only that the municipality has offered Mr. Johnson a separation agreement, which he has not yet accepted. “The agreement gives him time to review the terms. Therefore, I am unable to comment any further on the issue or share the terms.” Dashield did not respond to a requests for comment on what prompted the “separation.”

Having served as Princeton’s animal control officer for over two decades,  Mr. Johnson is well-known to the community for incidents that include removing bats and unwanted animal intruders into homes and keeping track of sightings of deer, foxes, coyotes, and bears.

einstein pi daySix years into spearheading Princeton’s annual Pi Day celebrations, Mimi Omiecinski has noticed a shift in the way the town approaches this annual event celebrating its famous former resident, Albert Einstein.

“It’s like the town is now the conductor of Pi Day,” said Ms. Omiecinski, a transplanted southerner who heads Princeton Tour Company and brought Pi Day, an event celebrated in communities worldwide, to Princeton in 2010. This year’s commemoration is Saturday, March 14, which is the famed theoretical physicist’s birthday and also happens to be the numeric equivalent (3.14) of the mathematical constant Pi. Events will take place all day at the Nassau Inn, Princeton Public Library, and other locations throughout town.

“It’s planned, it’s organized, but it’s almost like jazz in that everybody takes their own interpretation,” Ms. Omiecinski continued. “The people who run the non-profits organizations, and the merchants — they’re the unsung heroes. I put it on, but everybody does their own thing.”

Einstein lived in Princeton, mostly at 112 Mercer Street, for more than two decades when he was affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Study. The man who came up with the theory of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for Physics was also an unassuming resident who liked to take long walks and ride his bike through town.

This year’s Pi Day events include the familiar pie-eating contest at McCaffrey’s Market, the Pi recitation, the Einstein lookalike contest, and rides on the Dinky train with an Einstein re-enactor. But every year brings a new set of sub-themes. One that has recently captured Ms. Omiecinski’s attention is music. Einstein was passionate about music and was an accomplished, if amateur, violinist who played with the community’s orchestra.

“He loved playing the violin. People have suggested that he wasn’t particularly great at it, but he was committed to it,” said Ms. Omiecinski. “He played because he loved it, for the love of music.”

Several events on Saturday will pay tribute to Einstein’s musical proclivities. The first is at 9:30 a.m. at the Nassau Inn, when The Westminster “Chorchestra,” an ensemble of young cellists aged 11 to 17 from Princeton’s Westminster Conservatory of Music, will play works by Bach, a Renaissance piece, and two “Sailor Dance” melodies. Next is a “Kids of All Ages Violin Exhibition” sponsored by Princeton Symphony Orchestra, featuring children aged three to six, many of whom may come dressed as Einstein.

Miss Amy, a popular area musician who entertains children, will do a “Fitness Rock & Roll” interactive concert at noon, while Kids Music’Round will lead a parade at 1:59 p.m. to celebrate Pi. The first 314 people to assemble will be led in a circular path through Palmer Square, ending up with music back at the Nassau Inn. At the Princeton Public Library from 2 to 3:30 p.m., Kip Rosser will give a concert on the theremin, the first fully electronic musical instrument, which is played without physical contact from the hands of the player.

Other activities throughout the day include a chess demonstration, a self-guided Pub and Grub tour of Einstein’s favorite hangouts, two “Happy Birthday Einstein” parties held by the Historical Society of Princeton, a “Once in a Lifetime Teacher Video Contest,” a bike tour, a Kenken lecture and demonstration, a cocktail-making class at the Peacock Inn, and a mini-production of Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Local merchants will be pricing certain items at $3.14. Commemorative bracelets will be on sale to benefit the Princeton Education Foundation. More than 9,000 people are expected to descend on the town for the celebration, said Ms. Omiecinski. To keep up, she has hired Roy, her favorite local taxi driver, to ferry her from venue to venue during the day.

“There are Pi Day celebrations all over the place, but ours is the only one that takes place in the place where Einstein actually lived,” she said. “What I love about Princeton’s Pi Day is that we have something different every year in addition to the signature events. There is a real, sincere passion for this celebration.”

AN AMERICAN MUSIC ICON: Paul Simon surprised the audience of over 800 Princeton University students, faculty, and staff with a performance of “The Sound of Silence.” Simon joined poet Paul Muldoon for a discussion of musical influences past and present, citing musicians like the Everly Brothers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo(Photo by Denise Applewhite)

AN AMERICAN MUSIC ICON: Paul Simon surprised the audience of over 800 Princeton University students, faculty, and staff with a performance of “The Sound of Silence.” Simon joined poet Paul Muldoon for a discussion of musical influences past and present, citing musicians like the Everly Brothers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

Internationally renowned singer-songwriter Paul Simon visited Princeton University recently to talk about his career and his most recent work in a discussion facilitated by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton Professor Paul Muldoon. The Grammy award-winning artist also offered an impromptu performance to a capacity audience of over 800, mostly made up of students and joined by faculty and staff at Richardson Auditorium on the Princeton campus. The event was presented by the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Performance Central.

In a relaxed conversation with Muldoon, Simon discussed a range of topics including his most recent work, his early influences, the current state of the music industry, and the challenges artists face in today’s world. He also took questions from Princeton students in the audience.

When asked about his earliest musical influences he noted the doo-wop groups of the 1950s, Elvis Presley, and particularly the Everly Brothers, saying he was in awe of Phil and Don Everly as a teen, calling them the best-sounding duo he had ever heard. He recalled a 2003 concert in which he and Art Garfunkel, reunited for a world tour, invited the Everly Brothers to come out of retirement to be guest performers.

In talking about his most recent musical endeavors, Simon described his current interest in the work of 20th-century composer Harry Partch, who composed microtonally, closely looking at the range within each note. Partch contended the western scale of 12 notes in an octave was actually 36 notes and did not fully represent the range of notes. Partch invented instruments to play microtonal intervals. Simon had an opportunity to play and record with these instruments for the new songs he is working on. He played a recording of one of these new songs, “The Insomniac’s Lullaby.”

When asked about the prospects for a young songwriter starting out today, Simon noted the challenges of the current economics of the music business. “We are living in an anti-art age,” he explained. “The world is now a brutal place and obsessed with speed and wealth.” He noted the biggest problem with the music industry today is that it is more about the packaging of the artist controlled by a small number of large corporations. There are a few huge stars but many talented, struggling artists. However, he believes this will change, predicting the industry will see a shift similar to the one that occurred in the 1960s, ushered in by the young people studying music today. His best advice to budding songwriters: work hard; there are no shortcuts.

Simon also expressed concern about the growing financial resources spent on presidential campaigns in the U.S., with those processes being heavily influenced by a very small group of extremely wealthy individuals. He observed that artists have valuable perspectives on life, but politicians don’t ask artists for their opinions on important issues. He recalled that when he was working on the album Graceland in South Africa, the artists and musicians with whom he collaborated had the best understanding of South African politics. When asked what it was like working on Graceland with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, he said, “It was one of the great learning experiences of my life.”

Princeton’s oldest a cappella group, The Nassoons, opened the event with a performance of a medley of songs from Simon’s album, Graceland.

Prior to the public talk, Simon visited a creative writing/music course taught by Muldoon, “How to Write a Song.” In this popular course, Muldoon leads students with varied backgrounds in music and creative writing in the creation of new songs. Working in small teams, the students are asked to compose music and write lyrics each week that respond to such emotionally charged themes as contempt, gratitude, revenge, desire, disgust, joyousness, remorse, loneliness, despair, and defiance. Simon is the most recent in a series of guest artists who have joined Muldoon and the 26 enrolled students throughout the semester. He spent three hours with the students earlier that afternoon, listening to and critiquing the songs the songwriting teams had created that week. The students will perform songs from the course in a public concert at the end of the semester.

During his distinguished career, Simon has been the recipient of many honors and awards including 12 Grammy awards, three of which (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Graceland) were for Albums of the Year. In 2003 he was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award for his work as half of the duo Simon and Garfunkel. He is a member of The Songwriters Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Hall of Fame’s Johnny Mercer Award, and is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Simon and Garfunkel and as a solo artist. His song “Mrs. Robinson” from the motion picture The Graduate was named in the top ten of The American Film Institute’s “100 Years 100 Songs.”

To learn more, visit http://arts.princeton.edu.

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Kwame Dawes

Kwame Dawes

Poets from around the world will read from their work and hold panel discussions at the 2015 Princeton Poetry Festival, a two-day biennial event presented through the Lewis Center’s Performance Central Series. The Festival will take place March 13 and 14 in Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall on the Princeton campus. Organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon, the Festival will open with the New Jersey State Finals of Poetry Out Loud, a national poetry performance competition for high school students.

Princeton University has a longstanding tradition of nurturing poets. From Revolutionary War poet Philip Morin Freneau, class of 1771, to major post-war poets William Ralph Meredith ’40, Galway Kinnell ’48, and W. S. Merwin ’48, to acclaimed contemporary poet Emily Moore ’99, hundreds of renowned graduates have studied poetry and creative writing at Princeton. Today, poetry continues to thrive at Princeton under the direction of such renowned poets and professors as Michael Dickman, Paul Muldoon, James Richardson, Tracy K. Smith, Susan Wheeler, and Monica Youn.

This year’s 12 poets represent four continents. Seven poets from the United States include Ellen Bryant Voigt, finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award; Major Jackson, winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Maureen N. McLane, winner of the National Critics Circle Award in autobiography; as well as Ada Limón, Michael Robbins, and Ray Young Bear, a member of the Native American Meskwaki Nation.

International poets include Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, British poet Paul Farley, Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort, Polish poet and translator Tomasz Rózycki, and Vietnamese poet Ocean Vuong.

“We are pleased to bring some of the best poets in the world to Princeton,” notes Mr. Muldoon, the Howard G.B. Clark ’21 University Professor in the Humanities, “and to provide this venue for sharing their diverse work with our students and the wider community including middle and high school students.”

The Festival will open on the morning of March 13 with the New Jersey State Finals of Poetry Out Loud, when 12 high school students will compete for the state title and the opportunity to represent New Jersey at the national finals in Washington, D.C. among others.

A gala opening reading will follow in the afternoon when the New Jersey Poetry Out Loud winner and runner-up will perform, followed by a reading by all 12 Festival poets, introduced by Muldoon. A panel discussion and lecture will complete the afternoon with a reading by four of the poets in the evening. On Saturday the Festival will continue with an afternoon reading and panel discussion and conclude with an evening reading. While featured poets come from around the world and write in numerous languages, the readings, discussions, and panels will be in English.

Tickets for the Princeton Poetry Festival are $15 for each day, free for students, and $25 for a two-day Festival Pass and are available through Princeton University ticketing by calling (609) 258-9220, online, or at the Frist Campus Center ticket office. The Finals of Poetry Out Loud is free, however advance tickets are required and can be reserved through University ticketing.

To learn more about the Festival, including a detailed schedule of events and information on the poets, and the more than 100 other events presented each year by the Lewis Center for the Arts visit: arts.princeton.edu.

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bryn mawr book sale

Now in its 84th consecutive year, the Bryn Mawr Wellesley Book Sale, the largest and oldest used book sale on the East Coast, will open with a preview on Friday March 20.

Books are donated by Princeton University scholars, local celebrities, and ordinary book lovers. Proceeds support college scholarships for young women from central New Jersey.

Patrons will find over 85,000 books including non-fiction, fiction, trade, hard back, soft cover, rare and collectible books, recipe books, beautiful coffee table volumes, and photography books among others. They are organized into 60 topics and displayed for easy browsing.

“Every sale is a little different, based on book donations in the past year, and the 84th sale is remarkable for an extra-large children’s section and rare books in the Collector’s Corner section,” says Director Elizabeth Romanaux.

Tickets for the preview day, March 20, are $25 per person and are available on the preview sale page of the website. Remaining days are free. Collector’s Corner is open the same hours as the rest of the sale except where noted.

Hours: Friday, March 20 ($25), 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

Saturday, March 21, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.

Sunday, March 22, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.

Monday, March 23 (½ price except most Collector’s Corner books), 10 a.m.–8 p.m; Collector’s Corner open 10 a.m.–3 p.m.

Tuesday, March 24 ($10 a box day) 10–3 p.m.; Collector’s Corner closed.

For more details visit http://bmandwbooks.com.

The Rutgers Master Gardeners of Mercer County will host an all-day garden symposium, “Bringing Life to the Garden,” on Saturday, March 21, at Stuart Country Day School, 1200 Stuart Road, in Princeton. Several specialists will be on hand to deliver talks and interact with those in attendance.

Elizabeth Murray, artist, restorer and photographer of Monet’s Gardens; Kelly D. Norris, a 20-something horticulture manager at Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens; Mike Raupp, entomologist at the University of Maryland nationally known as the “bug guy” on radio and TV; Janet Macunovich and Steven Nikkila, professional gardeners, authors and educators; and Barbara J. Bromley, Mercer County Horticulturist, will be featured. Details, as well as registration form and fees, can be found at www.mgofmc.org/symposium. Registration by mail is required and early registration is strongly recommended.

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS) is preparing to file an appeal of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission’s approval of the Institute for Advanced Study’s plans to build faculty housing on land adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park.

Calling the DRCC approval an “illegal do-over,” PBS attorney Bruce Afran said Monday that he would file the appeal later this week.

In January, the DRCC, which oversees and manages the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and protects the streams that feed into the canal, heard arguments from PBS that construction at the site would negatively impact wetlands. The site borders a stream corridor and comes close to wetlands overseen by the DRCC. After reviewing the Institute’s plans and hearing from both sides, the DRCC voted on the issue. The six commissioners present voted 3-2 in favor of the IAS. There was one abstention. According to the DRCC’s rules, four votes are necessary for approval. So, the IAS plans failed to gain the approval sought.

In February, the DRCC commissioner Mark Texel, who had abstained in January brought a motion to reconsider the previous month’s vote. With this second vote, the Institute’s plans were approved 5-2.

Mr. Texel is a state park service director and the change brought about by his reopening the matter has caused some concern.

Mr. Afran’s appeal of the DRCC decision will be based on the illegality of revoting after the agency had denied the application. “It is illegal for a member like Mr. Texel to re-open the vote on the grounds he gave. The only time a vote can be reconsidered is if there is a change of fact. Otherwise there would be no end to the process. Agency decisions are and must be final.”

When Mr. Texel asked the DRCC to reconsider the IAS plans in February, he gave the following explanation of his January abstention: “I believed on that day, as I do still today, that the project as presented by the applicant [IAS] fully complies with our commission’s regulations. As you recall, at last month’s meeting, I abstained from voting on the motion on the floor at that time to approve the proposal. I did so based on comments by our commissioners prior to the roll call vote that there were already sufficient votes in support of the proposal for it to pass without my vote needed. Therefore, I chose to abstain from voting out of respect to the objector, the Princeton Battlefield Society, which has been a very strong and faithful non-profit partner of the State Park Service. However, I believe the appropriate outcome is that this project be approved because it does comply with the D&R Canal Commission’s regulations. Therefore, I respectfully request reconsideration of the proposal so that I may cast my vote in support of it.”

Mr. Texel’s explanation has prompted cries of ”foul” from some quarters, along with questions about a process that would make “every agency vote subject to change.”

“An agency vote is final” said Mr. Afran. “The only time it gets reconsideration is if there is fraud or a fact was misunderstood. In this case there was no misunderstanding of the facts.”

“The IAS appears to have lobbied to get the vote changed and at some point they have to consider that what they are doing is historically and environmentally damaging,” he said.

Taking his criticisms a step further, Mr. Afran said: “This type of manipulation is common in New Jersey and this is why we have an independent court system. Across the state there are some 1500 planning, zoning, and governing bodies that are manned by unpaid volunteers who can be pressured and manipulated. The DRCC is an environmental agency. This governor favors development. He’s been trying to put pro-development commissioners on the DRCC and saw an opportunity in his bid for the presidency to curry favor with an important institution and to turn the DRCC.”

Chris Tarr, attorney for the Institute for Advanced Study would not comment for this article.

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS), which has long opposed the Institute’s plans to build seven single-family homes and two four-unit townhouses on environmental grounds and because, they contend, it would destroy a part of the battlefield where British and American forces fought in January 1777 during the Revolutionary War.

On behalf of PBS, Mr. Afran also filed an appeal in Mercer County Superior Court, Monday, March 2, of the Princeton Planning Board’s unanimous approval of the development last November.

Of the two appeals, Mr. Afran believes that the one against the DRCC is the more important. “If overturned, it would leave the Institute with few options,” he said. “Even so, it isn’t clear that the IAS can go ahead anyway, since they still have to demonstrate that they can engineer a way to keep drainage pipes out of the stream corridor. Our engineer has advised us that this would be impossible without a wall being moved some 20 feet and that would constitute a major redesign which would have to go back to the planning board.”

“This story is in its beginning stages” said Mr. Afran.

While Institute spokesperson Christine Ferrara declined further comment Tuesday, March 10, she reiterated the Institute’s pleasure of the DRCC’s approval of its “fully compliant faculty housing plans.”

“With the DRCC’s approval, we may now move to complete the other procedural steps necessary to officially begin the project,” she said, adding that with respect to the drainage pipes mentioned by Mr. Afran. “The nature of the DRCC’s approval is that we do not intrude into the corridor and we will not.”

Princeton Board of Education (BOE) will hold its annual budget workshop in the Valley Road Administration Building Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m. The public meeting, which is not routinely televised, will provide an opportunity for Princeton residents to learn about the school’s budget.

The Christie Administration has just released state school-aid figures for the fiscal year 2016 and announced that all school districts will continue to receive as much K-12 aid as they did last year, including the continuation of the Per-Pupil Growth Aid and PARCC Readiness Aid.

According to the state website (www.state.nj.us), which shows district-by-district allocations, state-aid for Princeton in 2015-16 will be $3,429,578.

Thursday’s workshop will share details of “where we started and where we are now in the budget process,” said Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy.

The school budget process is of particular concern to property tax payers and teachers alike. The BOE has been embroiled in ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers’s union Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) since their contract expired at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Both sides have been working with state-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt since last December.

On February 17, they had a fourth session with Ms. Vogt, who has advised confidentiality throughout the process. A fifth session with Ms. Vogt is scheduled for April 9. In the interim, both sides have agreed to meet face to face without mediation on Thursday, March 26.

At the Board of Education’s monthly meeting in February, Board President Andrea Spalla reminded both sides that Ms. Vogt’s services are being provided at no cost to the district and that if a satisfactory end to the process is not reached with Ms. Vogt’s help, the negotiations would move to the “fact-finding stage.” The fact-finding process, said Ms. Spalla, could take anywhere between six to 12 months and the per diem cost of $1,500 would be split by the district and the PREA.

One point of contention between the Board and PREA was brought up during that meeting’s public comment session when Princeton teacher and PREA negotiator John Baxter questioned the Board’s claim that it must not exceed the 2 percent cap on budget increases. Mr. Baxter said that there was an exemption in the case of money used for increased health care costs. “If I am wrong, correct me,” said Mr. Baxter.

In response to Mr. Baxter’s remark, Ms. Kennedy called it “incorrect.”

Asked for clarification by Town Topics via email, Ms. Kennedy explained further: “John [Baxter] implied that the Board could simply increase the tax levy cap if they chose to. Fact is, there are few possibilities for increasing the tax levy cap — one is enrollment and the second is a health benefit waiver. Both opportunities are calculated through the budget software. So although it is possible, it is driven [by] many cost factors, not the board’s desire to just increase the levy. If a waiver is permissible then the Board would have to ‘decide’ to use the waiver. Any waiver is applied to the entire revenue detail and is part of the whole budget; it is not used in isolation.”

Chances are that questions about such a waiver will come up at Thursday’s budget workshop.

One other way to increase the tax levy, said Ms. Kennedy, is through a Second Question which would have to be voted on by the community in a November election. In such a case, the levy would follow rather than precede the budget process and, therefore, according to Ms. Kennedy, could not be applied until after a positive election result.

Do Teachers Matter?

Also speaking in the public session at last month’s board meeting were several teachers, many of whom described the hardship incurred by the increased burden on them of medical insurance costs. One said that she had advised her daughter that teaching was no longer a good career option. Another described living “paycheck to paycheck.” Addressing the Board, she said, “This Board has dug in its heels and teachers in Princeton have their backs against the wall.”

“This Board did not create Princeton’s ‘Lighthouse District,’ they inherited it from those who came before,” said another. “Please protect the legacy of public education in Princeton.”

One 20-year district veteran said she was “baffled” by what was happening. “Either the district does not fully understanding or is blatantly disregarding what we do,” she said. “Why is the Board treating us like we no longer matter?”

The BOE also heard from cafeteria workers unhappy with the ongoing negotiations between their union, Local 32 BJ Service Employees International, and Nutri-Serve, the company hired last year by the district to operate school cafeterias. Describing the negotiations as “one-sided,” one worker said the company “wants to go backwards instead of forward.”

On the other hand, Ms. Spalla described “positive” negotiations with PRESSA (Princeton Regional Educational Support Staff Association). “Significant progress was made by the parties towards an agreement,” said Ms. Spalla, adding that talks would continue today, March 11.

The Board’s negotiating team is also scheduled to meet with members of the Princeton Administrators Association, which represents principals, assistant principals, and supervisors, on March 24.

A vote to approve an ordinance that would allow Princeton to purchase a property in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood and expand the adjacent Mary Moss Park was tabled by Council Monday night, following a round of objections from neighborhood residents and historic preservation advocates.

The property at the corner of Lytle and John streets is next to the small park, which has a wading pool that is said to be deteriorating and unsafe. Under the proposal, the town would appropriate $600,000 from the Princeton Open Space Trust Fund to purchase the plot from R.B. Homes, and tear down the existing house on the property to make room for a “spray ground” for children.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert expressed enthusiasm about the proposal, which has been under consideration for over a year. But opponents of the idea, some of whom had just attended a meeting of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), were quick to express their concerns at the evening meeting. The HPC had just passed a resolution recommending to Council that they purchase the land but not tear down the house, which was built in 1870 and is “really just a classic of that period,” said Princeton resident John Heilner during the public comment period. “If you tear it down, you will actually be destroying a significant piece of history.”

Several opposed to the demolition said they would like to see the house saved and turned into two units of affordable housing. “Purchase the property but do not tear the house down to expand Mary Moss Park,” said Hendricks Davis, who lives across the street. “There is a tremendous need for affordable housing in this community, and not just in our neighborhood.” His sentiments were echoed by former Mayor Jim Floyd, Princeton resident Kip Cherry, and others.

Some Council members had reservations. “I will say that spending $600,000 plus the cost of rehabilitation is a lot to pay for two units of affordable housing,” said Council president Bernie Miller. Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said it was unlikely that the house could be turned into affordable housing. “I support the idea of the park but I am taken aback by the comments tonight,” she said. “I would want to table this to have discussions with the neighbors.”

Councilman Lance Liverman said he is in favor of the plan to tear the house down and build a spray park. “This house was going to be torn down before we got involved,” he said. “We felt that for the good of the community, this would be a park where children and families could go. I don’t think this program has to say we don’t support affordable housing. We do support it. This park would be an asset to the community. I’m for this project.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler, who is the liaison to the HPC, said using the building for affordable housing is only one option. Mayor Lempert commented that the Witherspoon/Jackson area is one of the town’s densest neighborhoods, and the spray park would provide a service for a lot of children.

R.B. Homes has filed for demolition permits with the town, said Municipal Engineer Bob Kiser. “We would have no reason to deny them,” he said, because all of the requirements have been met. The owner could raze the house and build something in its place if the town decides not to purchase the property, a possibility that worried people at the meeting.

The matter will be taken up again at the next Council meeting on March 23.

Council also heard an update on the 2015 budget, which is on track to be introduced at the next meeting. The budget currently totals approximately $60.9 million, Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said. That figure represents a rise from $59.2 last year, which Mr. Dashield attributed to a new trash removal contract, health and liability insurance, and higher capital debt, salary, and wages.

A discussion of signage in town, which has been under consideration by the code review committee working on harmonizing ordinances of the former Borough and Township, drew comments from merchants and residents. Ms. Crumiller, a member of the committee, said that while changes to permanent signs were not being proposed, temporary signage was another matter. The issue will be raised at a meeting of the Princeton Merchants Association before recommendations are made.

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Teammates on Princeton University’s 1965 NCAA Final Four squad, former Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 (left) and former U.S. Senator and NCAA Player of the Year Bill Bradley ’65 meet up as the 50th anniversary of the run was celebrated at Jadwin Gym Saturday. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

March 4, 2015

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert has sent a letter to Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richard Constable outlining recommendations for changes to the current code for multi-family housing, with the goal of improving fire safety.

The DCA is undertaking a review of New Jersey’s construction and fire codes, and has asked for input from municipalities across the state. Concerns have been especially high among local residents in recent weeks since a devastating fire at a Bergen County rental community owned by AvalonBay, the developer building a rental complex at the former site of Princeton Hospital.

The recommendations are focused on the use of lightweight wood construction in large, multi-family developments. If lightweight wood construction continues to be allowed in New Jersey, Princeton Council recommends several provisions be added to the state’s fire and building codes, according to the letter.

The provisions dictate that all new multiple family housing buildings meet NFPA 13 requirements, that they require masonry stairwells and elevator shafts, that they be build with masonry fire walls from foundation to roof line with rated roof assembly eight feet horizontally off the firewall, and require tighter intervals of draft stopping and fire stopping, and add to inspection requirements.

Also, if a loft or mezzanine meets the criteria for habitability it should meet the code definition and criteria for a floor level. Any penetration through a firewall must be permitted and inspected. The state should immediately create the same type of to-year permitting and certification process that would enable each municipality to inspect existing firewalls for backflow preventers, the letter reads. “Many contractors either are not required to take out permits for work done in attics or they are illegally performing the work in an unseen space. Firewalls are compromised and residents are unaware of the severity of the potential hazard,” the letter concludes.

UPSTANDERS, NOT BYSTANDERS: Riverside School art teacher Ashley Kennedy, left, and counselor Ben Samara, right, collaborated on a children’s book that helps kids step up to defend others who are being bullied or teased. “Sage Stands Up” is projected for a fall release.(Photo by Anne Levin)

UPSTANDERS, NOT BYSTANDERS: Riverside School art teacher Ashley Kennedy, left, and counselor Ben Samara, right, collaborated on a children’s book that helps kids step up to defend others who are being bullied or teased. “Sage Stands Up” is projected for a fall release. (Photo by Anne Levin)

In his job as school counselor at Riverside Elementary School, Ben Samara sees his share of children who have been bullied. He also talks to kids who have watched others be teased and want to help, but are afraid to intervene.

It is those children Mr. Samara and his colleague, Riverside art teacher Ashley Kennedy, are targeting in Sage Stands Up, a children’s book on which they have collaborated and hope to make part of a series. A “kickstarter” campaign to raise $6,000 for a limited first run was more than two thirds of the way to its goal this past Monday — and that’s with another three weeks to go.

“It’s really about standing up for others,” said Mr. Samara during an interview in his office. “When bystanders become what we call upstanders, it dramatically reduces bullying.”

“These kids are young. They don’t really want to be bullies,” adds Ms. Kennedy. “You want those who are strong to guide the ones who might be a little lost. It’s really about kids teaching kids.”

Mr. Samara has always been a writer. At the College of New Jersey, he majored in professional writing and journalism before earning a master’s degree in school counseling. “I do a lot of reading to kids here at school, and I have noticed that the content in books about bullying isn’t always right or entertaining or accessible,” he said. “So I thought, why not do my own?”

To illustrate the book, Mr. Samara called on Ms. Kennedy, with whom he has served on committees at Riverside devoted to anti-bullying. She was on board right away. Her experience as a commercial photographer as well as an illustrator helped shape the vision for the book, which combines the two forms. Color illustrations are mixed with black and white photographic backgrounds.

“I wanted the kids here at Riverside to literally see themselves in the book,” said Ms. Kennedy. “So that’s why I used both illustrations and photography. I have illustrations of kids placed with photographs of places that are familiar, like our school hallways, so that they can identify.”

Both educators see an alarming rise in bullying, both locally and on a more widespread basis. At Riverside, they try to be pro-active rather than reactive. Posters urging children to be “upstanders” are strategically placed in every classroom and in hallways. “We work with kids so they know how to deal with the problem,” said Mr. Samara. Ms. Kennedy added, “It’s about developing empathy before an incident happens.”

In Sage Stands Up, the main character is named Sage for a reason. “It means wisdom, which is important,” said Mr Samara. “And Sage is often a girl’s name, so giving it to a boy is part of the idea of not pre-judging, and standing up for who you are. My favorite part of the book is the fact that even after Sage learns what to do in a bullying situation, he’s still scared. But at the end of the day, he follows through. This is definitely a scenario that we’ve heard about many times. So it really rings true.”

Ms. Kennedy has taught at Riverside since September 2013. Prior to coming to Princeton, she taught at a high school in West Caldwell and did commercial photography work. Mr. Samara has been Riverside’s guidance counselor since 2009.

The colleagues plan to gauge the community reaction to the book before deciding their next step, but they are hopeful that more books are in their future. They have done test readings at Riverside, with overwhelmingly positive reactions from their young critics.

Mr. Samara has finished writing the story; Ms. Kennedy still has a few more illustrations to go, this winter’s incessant snow having hampered some of her photography efforts. An initial run of 1,000 copies is projected for the coming fall.

“This is an idea we’ve generated together and hope to follow up on,” said Mr. Samara. “I think it’s addressing something that most kids can relate to.”

On Sunday, March 15 from 3 to 5 p.m., “ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your Life In ‘The Era of Endless‘ will take place at Princeton Public Library. Co-Sponsored by Chadd of Princeton-Mercer County and the library, the event will feature speaker Judith Kolberg, Author of ADD-Friendly Ways to Organize your Life and founder of Fileheads Professional Organizers.

For those with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) who are avid information-seekers but soft on decision-making, the ‘Era of Endless’ information can be particularly overwhelming. At the event, participants will discuss powerful ADD-friendly strategies for getting the upper hand.

Donald F. Denny Jr., MD

Donald F. Denny Jr., MD

The Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS) Foundation presented the 2015 Physician Philanthropist of the Year Award to Donald F. Denny Jr., MD, a board certified radiologist who serves as senior vice president for medical affairs at PHCS.

Dr. Denny received the award from Gerard A. Compito, MD, chairman of the PHCS Foundation Board of Directors, during the PHCS Medical Staff’s annual dinner on February 12. The Foundation presents the award annually to a University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP) physician whose service and leadership as a volunteer have enhanced not only the PHCS Foundation’s fundraising goals but also the missions of other nonprofit organizations throughout the greater central New Jersey community.

Dr. Denny is the fourth recipient of the award. Previous awardees included William P. Burks, MD, Peter I. Yi, MD, and Margaret L. Lancefield, MD, PhD.

Dr. Denny was co-chair of the Physicians Development Committee (with Dr. Yi) and served on the Leadership Gifts Committee during the Design for Healing campaign, which supported construction of the new UMCP. The Physicians Development Committee helped raise more than $5 million from over 460 physicians and their
families.

Dr. Denny and his wife, Catherine, hosted events in their home for the Foundation and Design for Healing campaign. Dr. Denny continues to work with the Foundation to support new service line fundraising initiatives. In addition to their work with the Foundation, the Dennys also are regular financial supporters of the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Trinity Counseling Service, Isles, Mercer Street Friends, McCarter Theatre and other nonprofit groups in the Mercer County region.

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dreamcatchers

Boys and Girls Clubs’ kids show off the Native American dreamcatchers they made during a field trip to Updike Farmstead. The clubs are the focus of a program Saturday, March 7 at the restored farm at 354 Quaker Road. Between noon and 2 p.m., visitors can learn about the clubs, take a guided tour of the farmstead, and make a craft. The event is the first in a series of “First Saturdays at Updike Farmstead” events taking place this year. Organizations including Friends of Herrontown Woods; SAVE, A Friend to Homeless Animals; Trenton Area Soup Kitchen’s A-Team Artists and the FunkTASKtics; HomeFront; and Princeton Photography Club are future participants. Admission to each event is $4. Visit www.princetonhistory.org for information. (Photo Courtesy of Historical Society of Princeton)

Matt Poles is not one of those chefs who searches out bizarre, exotic ingredients to glam up the breakfast and lunch dishes he creates for Small World Coffee’s two locations in town. The 30-year-old graduate of the Culinary institute of America prefers to keep things simple.

“I tell a lot of people I like to use the ‘kiss’ method — ‘keep it simple, stupid’,” Poles said this week, with a chuckle. “Sometimes salt and pepper are all you need.”

Mr. Poles has recently introduced a range of new menu offerings at Small World, made and sold in the store at 254 Nassau Street. Some items are also available at the original location on Witherspoon Street. New on the lunch list for Nassau Street are a pulled pork lunch burrito, a sweet potato and kale lunch burrito, and a beet and pickled fennel salad. Homemade toppings include “Raisin Hell Salsa,” guacamole, citrus slaw, and honey chipotle sauce.

“Matt has been working for us for awhile, but he’s just taken over the helm in the kitchen,” said Small World owner Jessica Durrie. “He had a lot of good ideas and we’re going to use his talents more. There is such a great lunch scene going on in that end of town on Nassau Street, and we had the capacity in our kitchen. So it just made sense to do this.”

Small World opened on Witherspoon Street 21 years ago. Originally, the kitchen was housed in the store’s coffee roasting facility in Rocky Hill. In 2006, the kitchen was moved to the second retail location on Nassau Street. In addition to beverages like the NOLA frappe and different syrups, the kitchen turns out seasonal granola, brownies, scones, cookies, small salads, and healthy “grab and go” lunch options.

A major renovation in 2010 removed the small amount of food preparation that took place in the Witherspoon Street store and replaced it with seating. “It was a good decision,” said Ms. Durrie. “We had already had the Nassau Street store in place for a few years, so we decided to consolidate the kitchen there. They supply the Witherspoon Street store with food twice a day, and it has worked very well.’

Mr. Poles grew up in Allentown and graduated from Allentown High School. After the Culinary Institute, he moved to California and worked for a bakery for a few years. Returning to New Jersey, he worked construction and did some silk-screening before resuming the profession for which he had trained. “Small World graciously took me back into the cooking world, and I’ve been here ever since,” he said.

Future dishes are in the planning stages. “We will work on some toasts, and we have been making some homemade ricotta and homemade jams in the kitchen,” Mr. Poles said.

Ms. Durrie considers herself lucky to have held on to Mr. Poles. “He is such a cool guy, and it’s great to have that kind of young talent stay in Princeton instead of taking off,” she said.

“I had always wanted to move back to California,” said Mr. Poles. “But here, they give me creative freedom in the kitchen. I work with really good people, and you can’t really put a price on that. So it’s given me more reason to stay. Plus, there is such a good sense of community here. Princeton is pretty cool.”

As for the long-standing success of Small World, which has become a local landmark, Mr. Poles chalks it up to consistency. “That’s hard to do,” he said. “People want to consistently feel like they belong to something. So when you go to a place where they remember your name and remember your order, that means a lot to people.”

Dr. Eric Chivian

Dr. Eric Chivian, founder and director emeritus of the Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, will be the keynote speaker at the 19th annual New Jersey Land Conservation Conference Friday, March 6, at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, 1 W. Lafayette Street, Trenton. Mr. Chivian will explore the connection between preserved land and wellness. It is not known whether he will be accompanied by his green companion shown here. This year’s conference will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with 24 workshops geared toward professionals and volunteers in New Jersey’s land conservation community. Tickets, which include continental breakfast, full day of workshops, luncheon, and day’s-end social with door prizes, are $95; $25, for students. For more information, visit: www.njconservation.org/rally.

Princeton University has received a record 27,259 applications for admission to the Class of 2019. The number, which includes 3,850 candidates who applied last fall through single-choice early action, is now the largest applicant pool in the University’s history.

Many of the applicants also applied for Princeton’s generous financial aid program, which meets the full need of all admitted students and provides students who qualify for aid with grants that do not need to be repaid.

Approximately 60 percent of all undergraduate students receive financial aid, and the average grant per year is more than $40,000. As a result, 75 percent of Princeton students graduate debt free.

“The University’s academic excellence and generous financial aid continue to attract outstanding students with diverse backgrounds from across the nation and around the world,” Dean of Admission Janet Rapelye said earlier this month. “We read and evaluate every application very carefully. We look forward to the review and expect it will be a challenging and ultimately rewarding experience to select the next freshman class.”

The admission process is need-blind for both domestic and international students, and all of them may apply for financial aid.

The University’s undergraduate admission office offered admission to 767 of the early applicants in mid-December. Candidates deferred during the early action process will be reconsidered with the regular decision applicants.

Applicants will be notified of admission decisions by late March. About 1,300 freshmen will enroll in the fall of 2015.

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The Board of Trustees at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, the all girls independent school in Princeton, has announced plans for a transformational renovation of the Lower School facilities with construction to begin in June, 2015.

The design and project management has been awarded to Richardson Smith Architects in Princeton. “In our design, we sought to create a metaphorical garden unique to Stuart that would unite the outdoor spaces on either side,” said architect Juliet Richardson. “We looked to the work of Jean Labatut, the original designer/architect of Stuart, for inspiration, interpreting his architectural language in a new way to produce a design that both resonates with the past and presents a new vision for the future.”

The existing floor plan of the Lower School K-2 area will be reconfigured to revolve around a large central hub named for Millie Harford, one of the school’s founding mothers and an early pre-kindergarten teacher at Stuart. This common learning space will be equipped with flexible state-of-the-art furnishings and technology, and will be designed to encourage hands-on exploration, creation, and collaboration between students, teachers, and the greater community.

“Since 1963, Stuart’s mission has been to provide our girls an innovative and challenging education, and in the words of Millie Harford, ‘with a door open to the world,’” said Dr. Patty L. Fagin, head of school.

Mrs. Betty Wold Johnson, a past Stuart parent and Trustee, has committed a lead matching gift to the renovation project. “We are so very grateful to Mrs. Johnson,” Dr. Fagin said. “Her gift will essentially allow donors to double the impact of their contributions.”

Drawing on the school’s natural surroundings, the new space will have floor to ceiling windows that open to the Townsend Gardens on one side and a Lower School playground on the other. New classrooms and offices will have easy access to the central hub at either end and will accommodate the move of the school’s junior kindergarten class into the Lower School.

NOTES IN A BOTTLE: Relative newcomer to Princeton Pia de Jong shared her observations on life in the United States with longtime resident Landon “Lanny” Jones in front of an audience at the Princeton Public Library Monday, March 2. The Dutch novelist and columnist read from her popular weekly column for the Amsterdam daily NRC Handelsblad. Mr. Jones, former People Magazine editor, moderated the event which was part of the Library’s “Conversations that Matter” series, currently focused on immigration. For more on the writer, visit: www.piadejong.com. For more information about library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529 or visit: www.princetonlibrary.org.(Photo by L. Arntzenius)

NOTES IN A BOTTLE: Relative newcomer to Princeton Pia de Jong shared her observations on life in the United States with longtime resident Landon “Lanny” Jones in front of an audience at the Princeton Public Library Monday, March 2. The Dutch novelist and columnist read from her popular weekly column for the Amsterdam daily NRC Handelsblad. Mr. Jones, former People Magazine editor, moderated the event which was part of the Library’s “Conversations that Matter” series, currently focused on immigration. For more on the writer, visit: www.piadejong.com. For more information about library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529 or visit: www.princetonlibrary.org. (Photo by L. Arntzenius)

In spite of icy conditions on a cold March Monday, the Community Room at the Princeton Public Library was filled to capacity when Dutch novelist and columnist Pia de Jong presented a selection of the popular weekly column she writes about life in Princeton for the Amsterdam daily NRC Handelsblad.

Ms. de Jong is well known as a novelist in The Netherlands and it surely won’t be long before she’s known more widely in the States as well. A hundred of her columns have already been compiled into book form by the Dutch publisher Prometheus under the title Flessenpost (Notes in a Bottle); she’s working to translate her novels from Dutch into English and is writing a memoir.

Landon Jones, former People Magazine editor and longtime Princeton resident, served as Ms. de Jong’s interviewer, Monday, March 2, putting questions to her, inviting her to read from her work and soliciting questions from the audience. The event was part of the Library’s “Conversations that Matter” series, currently focused on immigration.

“Who better to speak about the immigration experience than Pia,” said Mr. Jones. “Soon after she arrived in Princeton from Amsterdam, where she had established herself as a rising star, she began writing on people, places, and the human comedy, as well as the experience of writing in the foreign language of English.”

Since her first column, written during her first week in Princeton, Ms. de Jong has produced 126 consecutive articles in as many weeks. Clearly she hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since. Ms. de Jong’s writings are far from hurried outpourings, however. They are full of insight and witty observation. They are just as informative and entertaining to U.S. as to Dutch readers as Monday’s audience discovered in a booklet sampling Notes in a Bottle that was made available for free, or for a donation to the Princeton Public Library.

Illustrated with delightful cartoons by Eliane Gerrits, some of them very funny indeed, Ms. de Jong’s subjects range from her arrival in Princeton to differences between American and European life, and contemporary politics, manners, and mores.

“She’s written about Freeman Dyson and the lady she met while waiting in line at the CVS pharmacy; Dutch bread gets a thumbs up; American cheese gets a thumbs down,” commented Mr. Jones. “When Pia had a fall on black ice that resulted in a hospital visit, it led to a column on domestic abuse.”

Describing Ms. de Jong as a late-bloomer who had two careers and three children before turning to writing, Mr. Jones placed her in the tradition other Europeans who have come to the United States and held a mirror up to its culture, traditions, mores, and foibles. “Alexis de Toqueville and Alistair Cooke spring to mind,” said Mr. Jones, author of Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation and himself a keen observer of national, social, and cultural issues.

A photogenic and engaging speaker with a broad and welcoming smile, Ms. de Jong came to Princeton in 2012 when her husband Robbert Dijkgraaf became director of the Institute for Advanced Study. The couple took up residence with their three children in the director’s residence, Olden Farm. Mr. Dijkgraaf also writes a regular column for the scientific supplement of NCR Handelsblad.

Olden Farm’s rural setting is a far cry from Amsterdam where the couple lived in one of the city’s most famous houses, a tall narrow 17th-century edifice on a canal, where the children were born and where de Jong began her writing career.

“A weekly columnist needs to be good company and that is Pia,” said Mr. Jones, adding that she is also “self-deprecating and funny.”

Of her first column written in response to Superstorm Sandy, which took her by surprise, she said: “I was totally scared and wondered why I had left my safe country and my nice safe brick home for a wooden one. I had signed up for a new experience but I didn’t sign up to die here,” she laughed, as she recalled the morning after the storm as strangely quiet. Observing a fallen tree, she felt just as uprooted, homesick. The piece she wrote in response to the storm was published in The Washington Post. With it, she found her American audience. “We all feel a little bit uprooted,” she said, acknowledging the immigrant nature of Americans who hail from all over the world.

Where did she get her ideas, asked Mr. Jones. “I never went looking for subjects but I paid attention to everyday things. Writing the weekly column made me look at things and be in this new country and pay attention; paying attention is the basis of writing; writers have an eye for detail,” she replied.

Wearing her signature colors of red and black, Ms. de Jong appeared relaxed and confident as she read several of her short pieces in their entirety. “Pieter and Bill,” described a character from the streets of Amsterdam and Princeton’s own Bill Rieszer, a familiar presence in downtown Princeton where he is known to many as Billy, the man who regularly sweeps the storefronts along Nassau Street.

Prompted by questions from the audience, the writer discussed differences between The Netherlands and the United States such as Amsterdam “coffee shops” that sell drugs and the city’s Red Light district. “The Dutch are more cynical and Americans are more naive; there is more tolerance for people who are different in the United States,” she said with characteristic forthrightness.

Ms. de Jong’s 2008 debut novel, Lange Dagen (Long Days), received the Golden Owl Literature Readers Prize; her second, Dieptevrees (Fear of Depth), published in 2010, was praised for its strong, elegant prose. Both have yet to be translated into English. She has published two books for children and has won many awards for her short stories.

For more than a decade, Ms. de Jong resisted requests to write the story of her daughter Charlotte, who was born with myeloid leukemia and was not expected to live. Charlotte is now a lively teen attending John Witherspoon Middle School. Ms. de Jong concluded her readings Monday with a moving excerpt from the memoir she is working on about that experience, which she has described as “life-changing.”

For more on the writer, visit: www.piadejong.com. For more information about library programs and services, call (609) 924-9529 or visit: www.princetonlibrary.org.