Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 9
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
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Charter School’s New Multi-Use Building Is Environmentally and Tax-Payer Friendly

Ellen Gilbert

“There aren’t too many right angles in this building,” observed Princeton Charter School (PCS) Board of Trustees President and construction liaison Mac Gardner at last week’s reception for the school’s new multi-use building on the PCS campus off Bunn Drive. “It was challenging, but the results are terrific.”

Since the Charter School, which was founded in 1997, is not eligible for capital improvement funding, the new building was completed without using a single penny of local tax-payer dollars.

Architect Michael Farewell described the project as a “visionary” one for the school.

His charge was to create a building that would house a gym, theater, art studio, and music classroom. The result features “some very interesting spaces and overlapping corridors” that can serve as lobbies and reception areas, he said. The building’s mixed-use function will be reflected in the combined displays of both art work and athletic awards.

In a bid for LEED certification, numerous windows are devised to minimize the use of electricity. “We very carefully considered the use of natural light,” Mr. Farewell said. “They don’t have to turn the light on during the day.”

“Artfully placed windows” maximize available light by framing campus views and light-transmitting panels reflect sunlight. “Light pierces into the building and animates the rooms,” observed the Princeton-based architect. “We wanted to minimize the carbon footprint of the building.”

The roof is constructed to collect and direct rainwater onto a vegetable garden adjacent to the building. In addition to its eco-friendliness, the structure offers “a tool for teaching hydrology,” according to Mr. Farewell. Other outdoor spaces include a patio with seating for 24 students.

The building’s flexibility is evident in details like the terra cotta panel that can be used to create a separate “black box” theater within the athletic complex, as well as a rentable reception area. The size and quality of the spaces, along with their acoustical excellence, has already attracted the interest of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, which shares office space in PCS’s administrative building.

“When you look at where this school started, with 72 students and four teachers on the second floor of the Nassau Presbyterian Church, it’s just amazing,” said former head of school Charles Marsee to those gathered in the large gym area. He acknowledged participants at the reception, including the school’s founders and early supporters, by describing “the blood, sweat, and tears” of early PCS enthusiasts who made the school possible.

“All of us share the idea that if society gets public education right we’re going to be fine,” observed PCS founder Peter Yianilos. He cited the broad-based giving that occurred throughout the Princeton community when the school was first proposed. “People in town who had no school children were willing to sign loan guarantees,” he recalled. That began a tradition of innovative fundraising that has led to the school’s financial security and ability to look forward to “generations to come.”

Capital and Endowment Fund Vice President Lavinia Hall described the school’s history as “a financial miracle,” that began “with nothing except a document that said we could start a school. We’ve been frugal to the point of annoyance.”

“The kids saw the building first,” reported current Head of school, Broderick Boxley. “We had 343 children plus adults, and all of them fit.” Up until now, the lack of space necessitated the sequential scheduling of many school functions. The students’ introduction to the new building occurred on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Mr. Broderick used the opportunity to talk about “growth, and building a life of character.”

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