Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 37
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
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New Committee Is Concerned With the Future of Valley Road Building

Ellen Gilbert

The formation of the Valley Road School Adaptive Re-Use Committee (VRS-ARC) was recently announced by charter members Ridge Applegate, Elric Endersby, Walter Krieg, Chuck Creesy, Anne Reeves, George McCollough, and Jim Firestone. Its goal, they say, is “to create a citizens group to step forward and, with proper funding, present a new vision and a solid plan for how the Valley Road Building can be saved and used.”

The group notes the rumors that “have been floating around that the Valley Road School building is being slated for demolition. Upon reviewing KSS’s report on the building,” they added, “it doesn’t look good for another of Princeton’s historic buildings.”

The KSS report they are referring to was released this summer at the request of the Princeton Regional Schools. It suggests four potential scenarios for dealing with the building, which has fallen into some disrepair over the years, including a costly upgrade of the existing building; salvaging portions of the existing building and providing for continued use by PRS and current occupant, Corner House; and “Plan D,” the creation of a completely new development, with housing, offices, and retail spaces available for sale or rent. The KSS report presents Plan D as the most desirable outcome, noting the building’s proximity to Town Hall and describing the result as an “exciting mixed use neighborhood” with the potential for generating revenue.

VRS-ARC members said that while Plan D would “ostensibly” save the tax payers’ money and limit the liabilities to the school system from the whole Valley Road complex, “it is not clear what it would cost to just renovate the older building for reuse according to special state codes for adaptive reuse.”

Committee members, who come from various backgrounds including some with professional backgrounds in school and building re-use, began meeting in June. They report that they have invited local officials and school board members, as well as professionals with expertise in construction and architecture, to their meetings. “The main focus has become whether Valley Road School, the older portion, can be adaptively re-used for a significantly lower price than those mentioned or intimated in the KSS report rather than demolished,” they said.

“There is a natural interest in the maintenance of the original building,” according to the press release. “The design and materials used in both the firehouse next door and the new Township Hall directly across Witherspoon Street were both patterned after the design and materials in this building and its presence there. VRS-ARC discussions have focused on what a unique opportunity the old building is because if it can be refitted in a cost-effective way, its high ceilings, large and flexible rooms, easy access, central location, and parking allow keeping the building for multiple uses such as classrooms, workshops, and meeting places for community non-profit groups.”

The committee has noted the need for affordable space for community services in both the Township and Borough, saying that the central location of the Valley Road building is ideal. They believe that keeping existing programs there is “very important,” and call for adding other non-profit groups and government agency programs — most notably, perhaps, recreation — to the building. They also note the “substantial investments” made by current tenants, including office renovations and air quality improvement measures by Corner House, and the complete cable rewiring of the Princeton Community TV studio by both Comcast and Verizon.

“We and several other professionals believe that the school has its greatest value in its present form,” said committee members. “Local and statewide architectural firms specializing in renovating and greening older buildings are helping us determine if the building can be cost-effectively made energy efficient. A conscious part of the acronym chosen for our name, VRS-ARC, is the ARC which represents a significant part of a circle and is a homonym for Noah’s Biblical Ark,” they added. “These tie the circle of community and the various members together. That is our goal for the building.”

For more information on the ARC call (609) 647-9802.

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