Time is running out for TV 30 to find new studio space, but leaders of the local public access television station are hopeful they can work out a lease arrangement with the town of Princeton to rent space in the former Princeton Borough Hall.
The Princeton Council last night approved contracts to renovate space in the former Borough municipal building for Corner House. The building is expected to be ready for the Corner House move by late March.
After the move, TV 30 will be the only tenant left in the oldest portion of the Vally Road School facing Witherspoon Street. Some officials expressed the hope last night that the Corner House move would prompt the station to finally move to new quarters.
“I’d hate to see TV 30 get lost in the shuffle,” Councilman Bernie Miller said.
Administrator Bob Bruschi said the municipality was working on negotiating a lease for the station to share space at Borough Hall.
“Bob has been very cooperative with us,” Dick Woodbridge said in a phone interview. Woodbridge is a liaison to the municipal cable tv committee and a longtime member of the TV 30 foundation. He said in the long-term, he still hope TV 30 can make the Valley Road School its home. Another group he is involved with, the Valley Road Adaptive Reuse Committee, still wants to work out a plan to turn the Valley Road School in to a community center for non-profits. A non-profit has been formed to raise money to renovate the building, and the IRS just approved the group’s tax exempt status.
Woodbridge said that under the leadership of George McCullough, TV 30 has been very successful and has grown over the last few years.
“As far as we can determine, it is now the largest producer of video content in state after the demise of NJN,” he said. “We’d like to continue to grow, and we need the appropriate space. The Valley Road School has the appropriate space and the potential for a sizable studio. People also love the station at that location. We see such potential there.”
Even if the non-profit community center idea becomes a reality, TV 30 would still need to move while renovations are made to the building. Woodbridge said the only concern is whether there is enough space at the former Borough building to meet the station’s needs.
“We need more than just a a space for small-scale interviews around a table,” he said. “We need a studio. The old council chambers would be ideal, but they want to use that area as a community room. If we can get a commitment from the town to have enough access to that room, we could work something out.”
In 2011, the adaptive reuse group submitted a proposal to the local school board to turn the old portion of the Valley Road School in to a nonprofit hub. Princeton Borough and Princeton Township also submitted a proposal to demolish the school and build a new complex to house Corner House, the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and an expanded fire station.
After accepting proposals, school officials announced that the school board would wait until after consolidation to decide what to do with the property. The rescue squad has since decided to expand at its current site on Harrison Street, and space at the old Borough building was freed up for Corner House after consolidation. A task force is currently studying the feasibility of expanding the fire house on the Valley Road site.
The school was the Princeton Township municipal building before the new municipal complex was built across the street. Woodbridge said if school administrators don’t maintain the building properly, citizens might decide to sue as a last resort.
“It’s a public property controlled by the school board. They have a responsibility to maintain it. The building has been grossly neglected, and the roof is leaking. By neglecting it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that it is hard to repair. Time is of the essence,” Woodbridge said. “The building really belongs to the people of the town of Princeton. The fact that it has not been used fully for many years is a crime. The town does not have the luxury of just saying `let’s wash our hands of it’.”
Woodbridge said the group that envisions a community center on the site is not saying the building has to be preserved exactly as it is.
“We’re not saying put it under a bell jar,” he said. “We are saying expand it, but preserve the historic nature and serve the 21st century at the same time. It does not need to look exactly the way it was. There are spaces we could take advantage of that could be expanded where we would get a substantial improvement in utility for the town.”
Woodbridge said he was encouraged by the response from local non-profits, including arts organizations and educational enrichment groups, when the idea of a non-profit hub was first floated two years ago.
“There are many area non-profits that are ready, willing and able to pay rent,” he said. “We can make this work. But it is frustrating because we’ve waited all this time, and we have not been permitted to make any repairs ourselves. This contradicts any common sense I can think of. If we are willing to repair the roof, why turn us down?”