March 25, 2015

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) voted last week to approve a tentative budget for the 2015-16 school year that would raise the property tax levy by approximately 2.4 percent, in spite of the state-mandated two percent budget cap. The vote was unanimous.

“The budget’s notable bright spots are no reductions to staff or programs because this year we qualify for two waivers that give statutory permission to increase taxes exceeding the two percent cap,” said Board President Andrea Spalla, who thanked Business Administrator Stephanie Kennedy for her work on the “complex balancing act” that is the schools budget.

The district is eligible for the two state-approved waivers as a result of increased healthcare costs and rising enrollment. The health benefit waiver amounts to $413,110 and the rising enrollment waiver of some $1.7 million.

The district last qualified for the health waiver in 2011-12 and was able to exceed the two percent cap that year also. The additional amount raised would be used to support health benefits for all district staff.

While the enrollment waiver would have allowed the district to raise the entire $1.7 million this first year, the BOE chose to spread the waiver over the course of the next three years. This year roughly one third of the $1.7 million would be raised through the eligible cap adjustment and used for textbooks, computers, and to hire four new teachers at the high school.

It is anticipated that 60 students will be added at the high school alone and the increase districtwide is expected to be about 100 students.

The tentative budget has yet to be reviewed by the Executive County Superintendent of Schools and may yet be revised before a final vote is taken after a public budget hearing on April 28. It proposes a total expenditure for the district of $89,668,832; taxes to be raised amount to $73,339,567, up from $71,629,433 from last year.

As a result, the owner of a home assessed at the town average of around $800,560 would see an annual increase in school taxes of around $179. School taxes comprise a portion of homeowners’ tax bill.

Public Session

At last week’s meeting there were surprisingly few comments on the budget. Most of the individuals who came to the podium to speak during the public session addressed the ongoing teacher contract negotiations and urged the Board and the teachers to reach a resolution prior to the end of the school year.

The BOE has been embroiled in ongoing 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.

Perhaps responding to past accusations of intransigence on the part of the Board with respect to its negotiations with the teachers’s union, Board President Andrea Spalla said “Nothing is set in stone, the Board hasn’t drawn a line in the sand beyond which it refuses to budge, we are ready to work. She spoke of “compromise” and “positive steps that will lead us to a resolution.”

At last week’s meeting the Board was again criticized for what one individual described as its “lengthy inaction.” One parent, however, said that she was saddened by the “vitriol” against the Board. “This isn’t Princeton at its best,” she said, pointing out that, “they were elected by us and they deserve respect and commendation for the unpaid job that they do.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. Members of the public have just under five weeks to review and comment on the budget before it is finalized.

Ms. Spalla has said that she, Mr. Cochrane, Ms. Kennedy and individual Board members would “welcome input from the public via email” in advance of their final budget vote.

phs students

Seven Princeton High School students have been awarded scholarships by the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey (FLENJ). The state-wide competition, which resulted in 10 awards overall this year, is based upon a performance assessment in the target language, with students writing an essay to a prompt, followed by a telephone interview for semi-finalists. The PHS winners are studying diverse foreign languages, including Mandarin, Italian, French, Japanese, and Spanish. Winners, who received a $1,000 scholarship for college, are from left: Lila Abreu (French), Charles Jenkin (Italian), Patrick Sockler (Italian), Eric Ham (French), Architha Sudhakar (Mandarin), Rhea Braun (Japanese),  and Alana Chmiel (Spanish).

The Arts Council of Princeton (ACP) will hold a Story Slam, the second in a series of public programs focusing on the history and transition of the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood on Saturday, March 28, at 3 p.m.

The event is part of the “The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Stories Project,” which recognizes the importance of preserving the rich cultural heritage of Princeton’s historically African-American Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

The purpose of the project is to collect personal stories and create a permanent record and directory that will tie together photographic and historical collections currently housed by the Arts Council, the Princeton Public Library, Princeton University Center for African American Studies, Paul Robeson House, and the Princeton Historical Society.

The Arts Council of Princeton’s Paul Robeson Center for the Arts is located in Princeton’s Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, a historically African-American community with a rich history dating back to the 18th century.

Residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, which was named for its original boundary streets, were involved in the Civil Rights movement and social justice activism. The house directly across the street from the Robeson Center was the birthplace of the renowned singer, actor, film star, and human rights activist Paul Robeson.

As Princeton becomes more gentrified, residents fear that the rich cultural history of their neighborhood will be lost. Through the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Stories Project, the ACP aims to not only highlight, document, and preserve the personal stories of longtime residents, but to also create an appreciation for the influence the neighborhood has on Princeton as a community.

Project partners include the Arts Council of Princeton, Paul Robeson House, and the Historical Society of Princeton. Funding for the Stories project is provided, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities.

The Story Slam aims to provide an opportunity for further community engagement. All are invited to share a story, poem, or song about the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood or Women’s History Month, along with invited speakers Dr. Cecelia Hodges, Princeton High School’s poetry group, and several other neighborhood residents.

The event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the Spring and Hulfish Street Garages and at metered parking spots along Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place.

For more information, call (609) 924-8777, or visit

jwms art

John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) eighth grader Marcelino Guevara, who moved to Princeton from Puebla, Mexico, last year stands next to his artwork titled “Ave Musical,” which he created after he attended a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, performed by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra last fall as part of the Orchestra’s Bravo! Series. “It was beautiful,” said Marcelino of the concert, the first he has attended. The young artist taught himself how to draw from a book and was encouraged to express his personal artistic response by JWMS art teacher Claudia Luongo. The work is on view in the Arts Council of Princeton exhibition, “Beethoven’s Form and Function,” through April 9.

At its meeting Monday night, Princeton Council voted 4-2 to set aside $600,000 to acquire two lots at 31-33 Lytle Street, next to the Mary Moss Park, in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood. Mercer County open space funding would finance part of the purchase.

While the original plan was to tear down the house that sits on the property and extend the adjacent, small park to include a “spray ground” and other improvements, Council has not decided the fate of the parcel because so many members of the community have spoken out against the plan.

Numerous residents of the neighborhood and other citizens, speaking at Monday’s meeting and at a separate meeting last week, have expressed a desire to see the house saved. Some urged that it be turned into units of affordable housing, while others have suggested different uses such as a type of museum of the neighborhood’s history. Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission passed a resolution earlier this month encouraging the town to spare the house, which dates from 1870 and is said to be the oldest house on the street.

Resident Kip Cherry told Council that Habitat for Humanity is interested in rehabilitating the house, raising money from private donors and having volunteers handle the labor. The plumbing and electrical work would be done by licensed professionals. Town administrator Marc Dashield said he had spoken to the executive director of Habitat for Humanity, who had some concerns about the financing. To renovate the house, which is in disrepair, it would cost at least $200,000, he said.

The property is currently owned by developer Roman Barsky, who has had a demolition permit since October but has held off on tearing down the house to allow the governing body time to decide whether to purchase the lots. While Mr. Barsky can tear down the house at any time, and build new houses, Princeton’s municipal attorney Trishka Cecil told the Council that voting to introduce the ordinance would likely send the developer a message that the town is serious about the acquisition.

According to Ms. Cecil, it is not clear whether the municipality can purchase the property with open space funds, preserve it, and then sell it or turn it into affordable housing. The county cannot contribute to the purchase if the house is still standing on the property, and that doubles the cost for the town, Mayor Liz Lempert said, adding, “From my perspective, if we’re buying it with open space money, I believe there is an expectation from the public that the building would be a public building and would be open to the public.”

Princeton resident Daniel Harris said local citizens will meet with Mr. Barsky this week to tell him of their hopes for the property. The Trenton-based community development organization Isles “has not been approached, but they are on our radar,” he said. Heidi Fichtenbaum, another local resident, said the issue is about more than just saving a building “Sustainability encompasses not only our natural environment, but our cultural environment,” she said.

Council member Jenny Crumiller introduced a motion to table the vote, but no other members seconded that motion. “I think we owe it to the people to table it and give them time to come up with a solution,” she said. “I made a radical shift in my thinking because I thought everybody would be happy about it. I’m definitely having second thoughts.”

Councilman Lance Liverman said that while he supports affordable housing, spending $600,000 for this property to turn it into affordable housing is not worth it. But he would be willing to listen to ideas for a partnership.

The governing body voted to table a vote on the issue earlier this month. Council president Bernie Miller stressed that by voting to introduce the ordinance, “we’re just putting the funds in place. Tabling it means we bring it up again, which probably defers action for another five or six weeks,” he said.

Councilman Patrick Simon said he was saddened by the situation because “we’ve been asked to deliver something we can’t deliver in a fiscally responsible way. The house is simply not worth it. The people who are pushing for this are going to have to come up with a solution,” he said. “Give us time,” yelled Mr. Harris.

Mr. Simon and Ms. Crumiller voted against the introduction, while the rest of the Council voted in favor.


The Council voted unanimously to introduce Princeton’s 2015 budget, which is $60.9 million and includes a tax rate increase of 1.6 cents. Homeowners with an average home assessed at $800,560 could expect to have their municipal tax bills raised by $147, said the town’s administrator Marc Dashield, who presented the budget to Council.

“It continues to maintain or increase services at financially sustainable levels,” he said. Different departments prepared their baseline budgets as part of the process, and help was provided by the volunteer Citizens Finance Advisory Committee (CFAC). Last year’s plan for spending was $59.2 million. If the proposed budget is passed, it will bring the municipal tax rate back to where it was in 2010, Mayor Lempert said.

A public hearing for the budget will take place at the April 27 Council meeting.

Princeton’s Planning Board voted unanimously last week in favor of a plan to allow a 7-Eleven to move into the former West Coast Video location at 259 East Nassau Street. The convenience store would be located in the front of the building, while the Princeton branch of the U.S. Post Office would move into the rear. The Post Office would vacate its long-time location on Palmer Square.

The Nassau Street property has been mostly vacant for a decade. Owned by the Bratman family, who ran a Viking Furniture store there for several years, it was originally an auto dealership in the 1920’s and has also housed a Johanna Farms, Eckerd Drugs, Wawa convenience store, and a laundromat during the past decades.

The store would occupy 4,945 square feet, while the post office would take up 3,505 square feet. 7-Eleven would not alter the footprint of the building, but plans to make small improvements, said the town’s planning director Lee Solow, at the meeting March 19. The parking lot would be resealed and restriped.

Additional landscaping would be added to act as a buffer to homes on Murray Place that back up to the site. Some residents of that street voiced concerns at the meeting, particularly about lighting, privacy, and the possibility of rats and other vermin around the garbage disposal area. “Please investigate this personally before you decide,” said resident Elizabeth Chang, who was especially worried about the height of the buffer zone.

The convenience store was represented at the meeting by an attorney, engineer, and traffic consultant. Stuart Kimmel of the 7-Eleven company told one resident who was concerned about children crossing the street in front of the store that stop signs and a striped crosswalk are part of the plan. He assured those worried about the garbage bins that trash would be picked up two or three times a week. He also said he understands the neighbors’ concerns.

“We don’t want rodents,” he said. “That doesn’t help our business. We are not going to allow an overflow situation. We will increase the pickups if needed.”

Since the early 20th century, Princeton University has owned a driveway that runs between the property and the one next door, which is owned by Lou Carnevale and most recently housed the Wild Oats market. Since a lot of foot and bicycle traffic is expected at the site, the town asked 7-Eleven to consider installing a sidewalk from Nassau Street into the site and through to the University, at the rear of the property. Planner David Cohen and resident Kip Cherry each expressed concerns about traffic jams because of cars entering and exiting the site.

The 7-Eleven would be open according to the town’s ordinance, adopted in December, that prohibits any retail establishment touching a residential zone from operating between the hours of two and five a.m. The post office would have hours between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. It would be closed Sundays.

While contract negotiations between the teachers’s union and the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) have taken center stage at recent public Board meetings, those between the district’s food service workers and their employer Nutri-Serve seem to have dropped out of sight.

The district’s food service workers have been hoping that their union, Local 32 BJ Service Employees International Union, will come to an agreement on a contract dispute with Nutri-Serve that began shortly after the company took over management of school food services last year.

In June 2014, the BOE unanimously approved a $61,245 food service contract with Nutri-Serve Food Management, Inc. for the 2014-15 school year. Existing cafeteria staff were offered jobs with the new contractor, which replaced Chartwells School Dining Services, which had served Princeton’s schools for 15 years.

Nutri-Serve was contracted for one year with the option for four additional one-year renewals.

Although the BOE has repeatedly pointed out that it is not a party to the negotiations between the company it hired and its employees, a number of food service workers have appealed to the Board to intercede on their behalf at recent meetings.

Many of the school cafeteria workers earn in the region of $9 an hour and have been serving food to Princeton’s school children for more than a decade. They claim that Nutri-Serve has not only taken away their health insurance and sick day benefits, it has been disrespectful to their needs. According to their union, Nutri-Serve unilaterally and unlawfully changed the terms of its contract with the employees.

Union representatives last met with the company on February 23 but as yet no further meeting has yet been scheduled.

“The Union sets the schedule for our meetings which have so far been held at the Princeton Public Library,” said Karen Maier, founder, owner, and president of Nutri-Serve. “The negotiations started last August and the meetings take place when the Union rep Edith Villavicencio is available; she has a lot to do and isn’t always available,” said Ms. Maier.

Despite being advised by her lawyer not to talk to the press, Ms. Maier spoke candidly with Town Topics about the dispute, the only union negotiation that the company is involved in.

According to Ms. Maier, an unfair labor practice suit that the union filed against her company was dismissed; the union filed an appeal on March 6. Ms. Maier, who has been working in the school food service industry since 1976, launched Nutri-Serve 28 years ago from the second bedroom of her condominium home. Today, the company serves some 78,000 children every day and over 60 percent of the company’s business is contract work with boards of education.

As far as Ms. Maier is concerned, the operations in Princeton’s schools are fine. “We hired a bi-lingual manager Joel Rosa and we have good relations with the employees,” she said. And while she believes progress has been made in the negotiations, with some better benefits being offered, she reports that holidays are the “hold up” for employees who work for 180 days in the year.

“But morale-wise things are good and we have a nice relationship with the employees,” said Ms. Maier. “We’ve made a good faith effort and our operation is working, the workers get sick days and we are providing health benefits.” The company has also provided more staff training.

“Our employees are really nice people, they gave gifts to our managers at Christmas time; they are family people who love children and need their jobs. I’m available, they can talk to me if they want to,” said the business owner who pointed out that a union contract is not essential for operations to continue.

Ms. Maier laughed at the accusation made in the public comment session at last month’s Board meeting that Nutri-Serve is a “union-busting organization.” “That’s ridiculous, we aren’t some big international operation, we’re regional,” she said of the company which is headquartered in Burlington Township.

“I respect unions, my brother is a union electrician. We’ve been respectful to them, even offering to go into mediation, which they declined,” said Ms. Maier. “It’s up to the Union to set the date for the next talks.”

Ms Maier makes no apology for being “proactive” when it comes to feeding children in a nutritious way and saving money so that more district spending can go toward education. “Look at my mission statement,” she said. “I wrote that myself and a third of it concerns our employees. This is my life. I care about children and about employees.

Nutri-Serve’s Mission Statement reads: “To provide nutritious, high quality food and customer service by a food service staff who model a professional attitude. They are guided by a teamwork approach to management. This results in satisfied customers and a more effective program saving taxpayers money. Nutri-Serve Food Management is a responsive company with the support system and integrity to best meet the needs of our employees and clients.”

Town Topics contacted 32 BJ representative Edith Villavicencio and received this statement from the Union’s Vice President and New Jersey State Director Kevin Brown: “Food service workers provide nourishment and a clean and safe environment for students, but they can barely feed their own families when wages don’t keep up with increasing costs. In a caring and affluent community like Princeton, why is it that food service workers must struggle to make ends meet? These hardworking men and women need a living wage, paid holidays, and benefits that allow them to provide for their families. Their children deserve a bright future just like the Princeton students they serve with pride and dedication.”

According to a union spokesperson, “a fair deal has not been offered” as yet and the workers continue to hope for “a fair contract with wage increases, health insurance, and paid holidays.”

Asked whether it was likely that the district would be renewing its contract with Nutri-Serve, BOE Secretary Stephanie Kennedy said that would be her recommendation to Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the Board. “New food service managing companies generally need more than one year to be settled in to a district,” she said in an email. “It is fair to allow Nutri-Serve the opportunity to return.”


This year’s Bryn Mawr-Wellesley Book Sale featured a strong selection of Shakespeare and Shakespeariana. Finds and wish lists are discussed in this week’s Town Talk. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

March 20, 2015

In a unanimous vote last night, Princeton’s Planning Board approved the proposal for a 7-Eleven store to go into the former West Coast Video on Nassau Street.

The convenience store will move into the front portion of the building, which will be renovated. The Princeton branch of the U.S. Post Office will relocate from Palmer Square to the rear of the building.

The property has been vacant since the video store closed nearly a decade ago. It is owned by the Bratman family, which ran a Viking Furniture store out of the building for several years.

The 7-Eleven will be open daily but closed from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., in accordance with a town ordinance.

March 18, 2015
POETRY OUR LOUD: Beatrice Dimaculangan (left) and Sara Zaat were selected from 12 outstanding high school students from New Jersey who competed in the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition in Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University on Friday, March 13. Ms. Dimaculangan, who attends Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield was selected as State Champion; Ms. Zaat, a student at Mahwah High School was the runner-up. Ms. Dimaculangan will go on to represent New Jersey at the National finals in Washington, D.C. next month. For more information, visit: by L. Arntzenius)

POETRY OUR LOUD: Beatrice Dimaculangan (left) and Sara Zaat were selected from 12 outstanding high school students from New Jersey who competed in the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition in Richardson Auditorium on the campus of Princeton University on Friday, March 13. Ms. Dimaculangan, who attends Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield was selected as State Champion; Ms. Zaat, a student at Mahwah High School was the runner-up. Ms. Dimaculangan will go on to represent New Jersey at the National finals in Washington, D.C. next month. For more information, visit: (Photo by L. Arntzenius)

In its tenth anniversary year, the Poetry Out Loud national recitation competition for high school students knocked the socks off a Princeton audience at Richardson Auditorium on Friday at the opening of the Princeton Poetry Festival.

Twelve students, selected from some 38,000 at 162 high schools statewide, read poems in two rounds before four were selected for a final round.

Once upon a time, recitation and elocution were subjects widely taught in schools. No more. But their value is recognized nationwide throughout the Poetry Out Loud competition that began in 2005 and continues to grow in popularity, particularly in New Jersey.

According to Nick Paleologos, executive director of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the state ranks first in the nation for student and teacher participation in Poetry Out Loud and the New Jersey program is the fastest-growing nationwide. When it was first launched, just seven high schools participated. Today, 160 high schools across the state take part.

Created by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, Poetry Out Loud state competitions take place in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

The competition began as a way of encouraging high school students across the country to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. The selection of poems that each of the 12 candidates selected Friday shows that the program has achieved its goal, at least as far as New Jersey is concerned.

Mr. Paleologos expressed special thanks to Robin Middleman, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts senior program officer; the program’s state coordinator Tammy Herman, and John Pietrowski of the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey.

“Just imagine every high school in the state doing this,” said Assistant Secretary of State Carol Cronheim, as she presented a special video about the program.

The participating New Jersey high school students were Amos Koffa of Burlington County Institute of Technology in Medford; Jocelyn Hedgeman of Cobblestone Home School Association, Deptford; Lauren Palmieri of Hanover Park High School, East Hanover; Aaleah Oliver of High Tech High School, North Bergen; Beatrice Dimaculangan of Jonathan Dayton High School, Springfield; Dennis Harrington of Madison High School, Madison; Sara Zaat of Mahwah High School, Mahwah; Margaret Dods of Mainland Regional High School, Linwood; Nicole Jenkins of Piscataway High School, Piscataway; Patrick Monaghan of Red Bank Regional High School, Little Silver; Georgiana Balisage of Thomas Jefferson Arts Academy, Elizabeth; and Angela Benson of Vineland High School, Vineland. Each had competed for the place on the Richardson stage in six regional finals.

Each of the 12 delivered two poems in two rounds before the competition whittled them down to just four by this year’s competition judges: Danielle Constance of the Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey; poet and author Dawn Potter; performing artist Alysia Souder; last year’s Poetry Out Loud New Jersey winner Natasha Vargas, and poet and educator Peter Murphy.

The four who made it though tough competition to the third and final round were Ms. Dimaculangan, Mr. Harrington, Ms. Zaat, and Ms. Balisage.

Another reading before Mr. Paleologos announced the winner and runner up as Ms. Dimaculangan and Ms. Zaat, respectively. The popular decision was met with cries of joy from a large contingent from Jonathan Dayton High School that had come to cheer on their champion. Ms. Zaat’s aunt and grandparents were also seated in the audience and were very excited by her performance.

The contestants recited works classic and contemporary, both familiar and new to the Princeton audience: from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” and Shelley’s “Ozymadias” to “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto and “The Universe as Primal Scream” by Tracy K. Smith, who was in the audience to hear her poem read by two students. One of the two, Ms. Dimaculangan presented Ms. Smith’s poem as her last reading before being announced as the winner.

As part of a new initiative by the state’s Poetry Out Loud team, which clearly upped the game of all those taking part this year, six mentors worked with each of the 12 contestants to hone their delivery skills.

Poetry Around the World

The event kicked off Princeton University’s 2015 Princeton Poetry Festival, a biennial event that took place Friday and Saturday. Poets from around the world read from their work and joined in panel discussions in Richardson Auditorium.

Organized by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor Paul Muldoon under whom poetry thrives at The Lewis Center for the Arts with professors who, like Ms. Smith, are also highly regarded poets, including Michael Dickman, James Richardson, Susan Wheeler, and Monica Youn.

This year, 12 poets representing four continents participated, seven from the United States and five from abroad. The U.S. poets were Ellen Bryant Voigt, Major Jackson, Maureen N. McLane, Ada Limón, Michael Robbins, and Ray Young Bear. International poets included Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet Kwame Dawes, British poet Paul Farley, Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, Belarusian poet Valzhyna Mort, Polish poet and translator Tomasz Rózycki with translator Mira Rosenthal, and Vietnamese poet Ocean Vuong.

On Friday afternoon at the Gala opening of the festival introduced by Mr. Muldoon, Ms. Dimaculangan and Ms. Zaat read along with the festival poets. Ms. Dimaculangan will represent New Jersey in the Poetry Out Loud national competition next month in Washington, D.C.

For more information, visit:

The Williams Transco company has revised its plans for installing a natural gas pipeline on the Princeton Ridge. Instead of digging open trenches in the environmentally sensitive wetlands, the company would use tunneling to avoid running into the area’s boulders and bedrock.

The changes came after extensive input from local residents, many of whom spoke at a public hearing before the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) last month. Others submitted comments in writing.

Williams submitted revised electronic plans to the NJDEP last week and will be providing hard copies to Princeton this week for review by officials and residents. The company’s Leidy Southeast Expansion project affects a 1.3-mile section of the Princeton Ridge.

“We’ve been working with the NJDEP for some time to reduce impacts to the Princeton Ridge,” said Transco spokesman Christopher Stockton. “We have agreed to six bores in the ridge area that would go under streams and wetlands, instead of a trench. The bores would be about five feet deep and 100 feet long.”

Local residents who are part of the Princeton Ridge Coalition have been monitoring Transco’s plans for the $650 million project, which would add a 42-inch diameter pipeline to an existing one. “While we haven’t yet seen the details, the decision to use boring in some areas is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Barbara Blumenthal, a member of the coalition, in a statement. “We have been telling Transco for the past two years that these were exceptional quality wetlands and that they needed to find an alternative, as required by regulations.”

In a related matter, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an administrative stay on March 11 that temporarily prevents the cutting down of trees for the project. The tree clearing had been planned to start last week, but Transco will now have to wait until the environmental issues are ironed out.

Transco originally agreed to turn off the gas in the existing pipeline during heavy construction work, but more recently indicated it would go back to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to request leaving the gas intact if the DEP did not act quickly to approve permits for the project.

“While avoiding these impacts on wetlands is critical, it is also imperative that NJDEP require Williams to turn off the gas in the existing pipeline during heavy construction work, as previously agreed,” said Coalition member Rakesh Joshi in a statement.

Princeton Council passed a resolution last month asking the NJDEP to insist that the pipeline be shut down during the construction.

A neighborhood meeting with Transco representatives and the project’s contractor, Henkels and McCoy, will be held Tuesday, March 24 at 7 p.m. in Witherspoon Hall. For more information, call the town’s engineering department at (609) 921-7077.

SAVING THE OCEANS: Ian Hinkle’s film “Reaching Blue” is among the offerings at this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival, opening Thursday and running through March 29.

SAVING THE OCEANS: Ian Hinkle’s film “Reaching Blue” is among the offerings at this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival, opening Thursday and running through March 29.

Susan Conlon had some specific aims in mind when she began planning this year’s Princeton Environmental Film Festival. Opening at the Princeton Public Library Thursday and running through March 29, the ninth annual festival of films and speakers on a sustainable theme meets most of those goals set by Ms. Conlon, a librarian and the festival’s founder.

“We wanted to infuse creative input into the festival,” she said. “We were really looking at how to enhance the local creative involvement. We also wanted to connect with community partners. We wanted to expand — not necessarily making it bigger, but making it better with greater youth participation.”

By showing one of the films simultaneously at the library and the Princeton Garden Theatre, and by collaborating with Princeton University, Ms. Conlon has fulfilled one goal. Initiating a student film competition completes two others. “We’re expanding the reach, doing more but at the same time keeping things in the scope of what we’ve done in the past,” she said.

The festival opens with Angel Azul, a film about eco-artist Jason DeCaires Taylor’s attempt to draw attention to the depletion of coral reefs across the world. His statues, which create artificial reefs that provide a habitat for marine life, also serve as an underwater museum that raises awareness of the plight of oceans. Also focused on the sea is Reaching Blue, Ian Hinkle’s exploration of the Salish Sea and the challenges faced by our coastal waters.

In Just Eat It, filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer explore food waste and how billions of dollars of “good food” is thrown away each year in North America, where one in 10 people live with food insecurity. Antarctic Edge: 70 Degrees South follows a team of scientists who live a life at sea in a race to understand climate change in the world’s fastest winter-warming place. Project Wild Thing shows how filmmaker David Bond made it his mission to encourage families to spend more time outside instead of in front of the television screen.

Filmmakers will be on hand for numerous programs, giving talks and answering questions following the screenings. Among them are Marcy Cravat for Angel Azul, Jared Flesher for Field Biologist, George McCollough and Anna Savoia for No Pipeline Say the Friends of Nelson, Todd Darling for Occupy the Farm, and several others.

There are events specifically geared to children and families. The animated feature film Song of the Sea will be screened. The PEFF Sustainability Bowl allows children in grades 3-6 to test their knowledge in categories related to the natural world. Local author and naturalist Jared Rosenbaum leads “The Puddle Garden” story time and rain garden presentation.

This year’s festival includes more films that came in as entries rather than films that Ms. Conlon and colleagues sought out. “Filmmaking overall has become more accessible for people, so that’s one reason,” Ms. Conlon said. “But the main thing is that we’re recognized as a place for emerging filmmakers to show their work. They want to be in our festival. We’re lucky.”

pi day apple pie

Princeton Pi Day’s largest pie judging event resulted in a big win for Jammin’ Crepes which was named for the best Apple Pie in Princeton by 50 resident judges. The team from Jammin’ Crèpes shown here with owner Kim Rizk (center) show off their certificate after the pie baking competition which was coordinated by Kitchen Twins and held at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room. (Image courtesy of Princeton Tour Company)

Mark LyonsLabyrinth Books and Wild River Books invite the public to celebrate Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines at Labyrinth on March 19 at 6 p.m. A collection of stories by Mark Lyons published by Wild River, Brief Eulogies has already been called an “important landmark in the literature of multiculturalism.”

Pushcart Prize Nominee, author Mark Lyons builds “story shrines” along U.S. highways, and depicts the struggles and insights of undocumented Mexican immigrants, hospital “lifers,” returning veterans and highway philosophers, among other unforgettable characters.

“Stories worth savoring … a world rich enough to make many novelists envious,” writes the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Mark Lyons, asks us to slow down, pull over, and turn off the engine. He asks us to consider the lives of not only the deceased being commemorated, but also the people left behind by the dead, the ones doing the commemorating … deserves to be read and relished.”

Brief Eulogies constructs story shrines, or descansos (”resting places”) — intimate memorial shrines we glimpse at the edge of highways and rural roads that mark profound loss, but also serve as acts of redemption. Brief Eulogies are stories about communities and people finding ways to survive their histories, addictions, and fears.

Mark Lyons is the Director of the Philadelphia Storytelling Project (PSP), where he uses digital storytelling in his work with teens, the immigrant community and homeless veterans. Lyons` past literary work includes writing, translating and co-editing Espejos y Ventanas / Mirrors and Windows, Oral Histories of Mexican Farmworkers and Their Families, published in English and Spanish. With 25 years of experience working in the Latino community as a health worker and community organizer, he was the director of the Farmworkers Health and Safety Institute. He additionally serves as the editor of Open Borders, the Wild River Review series of immigrant stories.

Princeton poet and activist Daniel Harris will give a reading of his poems that focus on nature and the environment to benefit Friends of Princeton Open Space on Sunday, March 22 at 3 p.m., at Mountain Lakes House in the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. The reading, which is open to the public, will include discussion with attendees and will be followed by light refreshments.

Friends of Princeton Open Space, organized in 1969, has contributed over $4.5 million in private funds and government grants to help establish over 1,000 acres of parkland and a network of trails that nearly encircles Princeton. It has collaborated with Mr. Harris in the past on issues such as protection of the Princeton Ridge and preservation of the Ricciardi property.

Mr. Harris has published two books of poetry and several works of literary criticism, as well as individual poems in numerous national poetry magazines. Professor Emeritus of English at Rutgers University, where he taught from 1981 to 2002, he has also held positions on the English faculties of the University of Pennsylvania and University of Colorado, Boulder. Earlier in March, he presented his environmental poems at the 19th annual New Jersey Land Conservation Rally in Trenton, organized by New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve is located at 57 Mountain Avenue in Princeton. Parking is available adjacent to Mountain Lakes House. There is no charge for the event, although donations to Friends of Open Space are welcomed. Mr. Harris’s books will be for available for purchase after the reading.

Michael Graves spent the last 12 years of his life in a wheelchair. But the spinal cord infection that left him paralyzed from the waist down did not keep the renowned architect from continuing to create innovative designs for buildings and household products. In fact, say his former colleagues at Michael Graves & Associates on Nassau Street, being wheelchair-bound served as an inspiration.

“When Michael became paralyzed in 2003, he realized he had an incredible expertise as an architect and designer to make a major impact on the world’s healthcare,” said Karen Nichols, an architect and principal in the firm. “A few days before he died, he was in Washington participating on the United States Access Board that President Obama had appointed him to, looking at accessibility issues in architecture and transportation.”

Mr. Graves’s death on March 12 came as a shock to his family and colleagues. But while his passing was unexpected, the firm Mr. Graves founded in 1964 had a succession plan in place. Joe Furey, the company’s chief financial officer and principal, has been working on the plan since joining the company just over seven years ago. The company has about 60 employees and is about to hire several more.

“I had a conversation with Michael several years ago on the final wrap up of the succession planning,” he said. “I mentioned to him, ‘The firm is coming up on 50 years. Wouldn’t it be cool if 100 years from now this place is still going strong?’ He got a smile on his face from ear to ear. I really believe he wanted that.”

Mr. Graves was on the faculty of Princeton University’s School of Architecture for nearly four decades. “I’ve been amazed that in what’s been written about him, more attention hasn’t been paid to his career as a teacher,” said Robert Geddes, the school’s former dean and now the William Kennan Professor Emeritus. “It was an extraordinary 40 years of leadership and really high devotion to teaching. From the moment I met him, I knew he had extraordinary talent, and he used those skills in teaching.”

Mr. Geddes continued, “In his early career he was so devoted to Matisse and Cubism and seeing the world from the explorations of modernism. He was a splendid teacher and colleague in that respect. We had courses on visual studies, drawing, and he was right on concerning the importance of drawing — the connection between the eye and the hand and the mind.”

Princeton-based architect Michael Farewell was one of Mr. Graves’s students and an intern at his firm. “His impact as a teacher and mentor matched his work as an artist,” he said. “His passion for drawing, for the close relationship between the eye and the hand, connected his work deeply to architectural history and the exploration of form. And because drawing was at the center of his way of working, he pushed his students to connect to these rich traditions in their own work. Like all great teachers, he taught through the extraordinary conviction of his work.”

Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder), a member of the core faculty of the School of Architecture, knew Mr. Graves for decades. “Michael Graves’s life and work are truly remarkable in that he created his own unique architectural language which was relatively simple to build, somewhat pragmatic, and always colorful,” he said. “Though a competitor, I always admired him as a consummate professional and a huge talent.”

Mr. Geddes also praised Mr. Graves’s renovation of the Arts Council of Princeton building on Witherspoon Street. “With all of this stuff about globalization, local knowledge is important,” he said. “His one building in Princeton for the Arts Council is excellent. My judgment for it is not only in its formal characteristics, sitting as it does on the corner with various entrances and the fact that it is an addition to an existing building. But the proof of the patina is use. You just feel from the way the banners are up and the displays are there and the people are sitting on it that it is really beloved. It’s local and it’s very, very good.”

Mr. Graves’s paintings were the subject of an exhibit at Rider University a few years ago. “He loved to paint,” said Ms. Nichols. “From the time he was in Rome as a student from 1960 to 1962, he did beautiful drawings and paintings. He also painted murals in many of his buildings. And since his paralysis, when he had to give up golf, he started to paint more and more. He did it every weekend. It just became a continuation of the things he loved.”

The fact that Mr. Graves died in his home, surrounded by the things he loved, is a comfort to Ms. Nichols and others who knew him. “When he was first paralyzed, he spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals,” she said. “And he used to say, ‘I can’t die in here. It’s too ugly,’”

For more on Michael Graves, see the obituary on page 37.

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.


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


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: