A citizen group that wants to save the old Valley Road School and make it a center for non-profits says a private developer has stepped forward and offered to provide all of the financing to rehabilitate the building.
Princeton resident Kip Cherry, a member of the Valley Road School Adaptive Reuse Committee, told the Princeton Council tonight that a developer that specializes in adaptive reuse projects costing more than $2.5 million has come forward to support the project. The developer, Sustainable Energy Funding, is incorporated in Virginia.
Bruce Afran, the lawyer for Cherry’s group, also argued tonight that he thinks it is within the municipality’s power to purchase the portion of the building facing Witherspoon Street from the local school district.
The group received more than 2,000 signatures from residents who support putting a referendum on the November ballot asking the governing body to negotiate an agreement with the school board about the building. The governing body has refused to put the issue on the ballot, saying it is not under its jurisdiction to do so.
Afran argued that when the building was deeded to the school district by Princeton Township in 2002, it was a “constructive trust” and the building was to be used for educational purposes. Afran argued the building is not really owned by the district, but by the public.
“If that part of the school is no longer being used for a school function, it ought to be given back to the public,” Afran said.
Resident Dick Woodbridge said the non-profit community center could be a public-private partnership. He cited examples of successful partnerships for similar projects.
Resident John Clearwater questioned why the governing body is willing to make efforts to keep the Palmer Square Post Office open, but is not intervening in the Vally Road School issue.
“Is there a major difference between the attitude of the school board and the issues surrounding the building owned by the post office?” Clearwater asked.
Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said officials are concerned about the post office building because of the service the post office provides.
“Regarding the building across the street, the municipal services needed and what the building could be used for to provide those services is our responsibility,” she said.
Local officials want the school building demolished so the fire house can be expanded and the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad can be relocated there in a new building. It is unclear how the project would be paid for.
Resident Joe Small said he opposes handing over the property to a non-profit group based on nostalgia for the old school and said the property should be used in a way that provides tax relief for residents.
“For a long time you’ve bombarded by a small group of people who want you to give them the Valley Road School,” Small said, saying the group sounds like spoiled children. “Perhaps the emperor has no clothes,” he said.
“The last thing we need in this town is to continue having valuable land have a tax-exempt status, for a private purpose” Small said. “The century-old piece of junk needs uncalculated resources in order to be put into a useful state,” he said. “There is no reason the taxpayers should be dragged into supporting a few charities. What we need in this community is housing and more ratable. It doesn’t matter who owns it . It should be done for the greatest amount of money that can be realized. The money could be put in a trust for the schools to reduce school taxes.”
Lempert said supporters of the non-profit center should go to the school board to discuss the future of the building.