April 10, 2019

An Invigorated Downtown Campus For Mercer County Community College

NEW AND IMPROVED: Clarke Caton Hintz’s renovations and additions to the Trenton campus of Mercer County Community College have allowed for an expansion of courses at state-of-the-art facilities. (Photo by Jeffrey Totaro, courtesy of Clarke Caton Hintz)

By Anne Levin

With an expanded downtown Trenton campus of renovated and new buildings, Mercer County Community College (MCCC) is becoming known as much for its presence in the capital city as its suburban spread next to West Windsor’s Mercer County Park.

New programs that needed new facilities with up-to-date technological capabilities now have a sleek home on North Broad Street. Courses in cybersecurity and security systems, fashion design and merchandising, nursing and phlebotomy, and more, are offered at the downtown campus, and enrollment is up.

“Our numbers in Trenton are growing,” said Dr. Jianping Wang, MCCC president. “This spring we have over 600 students, which is our highest enrollment ever. And we could probably have more if there wasn’t a parking problem.”

Architects Clarke Caton Hintz have won a 2019 Smart Growth Award from New Jersey Future for their design of the project. The honor is for “reactivation of a group of long-dormant buildings in an overlooked part of the city, with amenities to serve both students and residents.”

“New Jersey Future likes projects that are about smart development concentrated in cities and town centers, encouraging things like walkability and energy efficiency,” said John Hatch, of the architecture firm. “And they like projects that aren’t one-off, but are either a group of things happening or have lots of spin-off.”

MCCC has been working to invigorate the downtown campus for a while. Clarke Caton Hintz had done a master plan for the college, and created a second one after Wang became president in 2016. “She saw a real opportunity for the downtown campus,” said Hatch. “There is this whole population in Trenton that is underserved, and she realized that redevelopment of the campus would spur redevelopment around it.”

The existing Kerney Hall “has been an internally-looking building that turned its back on the city,” said Hatch. “She was pushing to expand into other buildings on North Broad Street to create the feel of an urban campus — to get students, faculty, and members of the community to be walking around on the streets.”

The newest buildings are located across the street from Kerney Hall. The former Home Furniture store was converted to the five-story Trenton Hall. It has been renovated for classrooms, the college’s fashion design and merchandising programs, and nursing and allied health programs. An annex next door includes an art gallery, more classrooms, and labs. The top floor of the five-story building is “a classic New York loft space,” said Hatch, “with very tall ceilings, beautiful floors, and windows. It’s being used for things like dance and yoga.”

“Things like our programs in cybersecurity and security systems require technology that the old building wouldn’t accommodate,” said Wang. “The building really allowed us to extend and expand our academic programs.”

The renovated downtown campus also opened the door for certain collaborations with business partners. “When you invite other businesses to invest and you show them an old facility, they’re not interested. But with something like this, they say ‘Yes, we’re in,’”  said Wang.

The building includes an open-air courtyard that uses natural stormwater to irrigate drought-tolerant and native plantings and divert stormwater from Trenton’s storm system.

The college has taken a long-term lease on another building, at the corner of North Broad and Hanover streets. “This is the next step,” said Hatch. “It’s an art deco building that had been state offices for a long time, and before that an A&P (market). Now, the college is working with a developer and is moving their exercise program there, renting out the main floor to a dental care program, and will use a couple other floors for labs and classrooms.”

Wang is pleased with the renovations at Trenton Hall. “It respects the historic features of the building,” she said. “It preserves all of the historic features. We saved all of the railings, the metalwork. To me, that is very important. Because if you don’t respect the history, you lose it. We want people to remember Trenton in its heyday, and bring it back. We want to set the standards for revitalizing the city and the building is an example of how together, we can do it.”