December 26, 2013

Board of Education Votes on Valley Road, Approves Raises

At last week’s meeting of the Princeton Pubic Schools Board of Education, the final meeting of retiring Superintendent Judith A. Wilson’s nine-year tenure, a vote was taken that might seal the fate of the Valley Road Building. 

The Board voted unanimously (member Molly Chrein was absent) to appropriate funding for the demolition of that part of the Valley Road School that fronts Witherspoon Street.

Board President Tim Quinn took pains to point out that what was being voted on was not approval to demolish the building but rather the “approval to appropriate funds to prepare for the demolition of the building.” Experts, he said, would need to be hired to determine the cost of demolition.

The revised resolution that passed at the meeting includes no estimate of costs associated with demolition but does say that the funds should, if possible, be included in the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year “or the first available budget where funds can be appropriated” and that “the Board will entertain proposals for the use and purchase, where possible, of the land at 369 Witherspoon Street.”

Any move to demolish the building is bound to be controversial. Advocates hoping to save the historic structure have brought plans to the Board of Education and to Princeton Council in the hope of turning it into a community center and hub for area non-profits.

For a brief round up of recent history of the building see page 8.

The meeting was attended by Kip Cherry, president of the Valley Road School Community Center, Inc, the 501c3 non-profit formed by the Valley Road Adaptive Re-Use Committee (VRS-ARC), and by John Clearwater, a former member of the Board of Education in the 1990s and one time Board president. Both regard the building as an asset belonging to the people of Princeton and wish to see a community facility. Mr. Clearwater has described it as a “test case” for “how we deal with the stewardship of public property in Princeton.”

The VRS-ARC has found a developer specializing in adaptive reuse projects who is interested in taking on and financing the project. Mr. Clearwater again raised the issue of whether the Board has the right to sell the property, which previously belonged to the township and was sold to the Board of Education for the nominal sum of $1.

Some local officials want to demolish the building and use the space to expand the fire house on Witherspoon Street. But as yet, there has been no decision beyond raising funds for demolition.

At the same meeting, the Board unanimously approved a raise for principals and supervisors. The increase for the 2014-15 calendar year provides a 2.4 percent raise and a $100 increase in longevity pay for those administrators currently receiving it.

Superintendent Wilson retires on the last day of the year. She will be succeeded by Stephen Cochrane who will take up his post at the start of the New Year. A special video thanking her for her service was shown at the Board meeting.

Former Board President Anne Burns who was appointed last May to serve the remainder of Board member Dorothy Bedford’s term after the latter had moved from Princeton, was thanked for her contribution to the Board. She will be succeeded next month by new member Tom Hagedorn.