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Princeton School Board to Vote on Demolition of Valley Road School

valleyroadThe Princeton Public Schools Board of Education is slated to vote Tuesday night on a resolution to demolish the Valley Road school building on Witherspoon Street. The meeting will take place in the cafeteria at the John Witherspoon School at 8 p.m.

According to the resolution, the board will use school district money “for the demolition of the building, if possible to include in the 2014-2015 fiscal year or the first available budget where funds can be appropriated.”

The school board will consider proposals for the use and purchase of the land, according to the resolution.

The demolition is controversial. Some residents have lobbied for the school to be taken over by a private non-profit and converted into a community center where civic groups and other educational groups can rent space at reasonable rates.

The Valley Road School has not been used as a public school since 1975. The older portion of the school facing Witherspoon Street was used by Princeton Community Television until this year.

School board members no longer want the building to be a liability, and have said that the district does not have the resources to maintain or renovate it.  The board reviewed two proposals from the citizen group and local officials. It deemed the citizen group’s proposal for the nonprofit community center unrealistic and questioned whether the group could raise the money to renovate the building. The proposal made by local officials was to demolish the school, expand the Witherspoon Street firehouse and relocate the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad to the new building.

According to the resolution to demolish the building, “the board has received no private or public proposal that meets the legal, philosophical, practical and fiscal requirements.”

Representatives from citizen group, which is called the Valley Road School Adaptive Reuse Committee, found a developer this fall who specializes in adaptive reuse projects who was interested in taking on the project and financing it. The group received more than 2,000 signatures from residents who supported putting a referendum on the ballot asking the governing body to negotiate an agreement with the school board about the building for the non-profit center. The governing body refused to put the issue on the ballot, saying it was not under its jurisdiction to do so.

Several local officials wanted the school building demolished so the fire house could expand at the site. It is not clear what happened with that proposal. Behind the scenes, the governing body has been discussing the fire house expansion in closed session. The governing body met with representatives of the First Aid and Rescue Squad in closed session last week.  Earlier this year, officials asked the squad to reconsider its recent decision to expand on its existing site on Harrison Street, and proposed that the existing first aid squad properties be used for affordable housing.

But one question that has been raised repeatedly is how would the firehouse expansion be paid for? The town has $97 million in outstanding debt, and members of a citizens finance advisory committee have advised elected officials that incurring debt for new capital expenditures in the next few years would put too much pressure on the town’s finances.

Without any new borrowing, the annual cost of paying off Princeton’s debt will remain at about $9 million a year until 2017 and fall off sharply in 2020, the committee said. Every $5 million of additional borrowing adds $430,000 to the annual debt service, the group estimated.  Committee members said the town will likely have to look for alternative ways to pay for future construction projects such as spending down the town’s surplus and raising taxes.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    The council has disappointed me. As usual, with politicians, they probably have all already set before and they laugh at the Princetonians. But, hey, there is a say, “you get what you deserve”, so, if Princetonians stand still, the council, mayor and school board hold the cards and make the decisions. It is a “clique” in charge. It wouldn’t surprised me a pole of years from now, all the debt and the school board requesting to increase the budget, it is not true that they are going to use their funds, it s all taxpayers’ money as I predicted in my letters. Shame on you, especially those who have lived in this town just a dozen of years and make important decisions. Shame on you!

  • R Adam

    Jim, I’m sure if you add enough affordable housing units to the battlefield strip-mall project it will get a lot of support

  • SFB

    The Governing Body have clearly decided to expand the firehouse and put PFARS on the same site where the old school stands. I like the idea of the old PFARS becoming affordable housing, but I really fear that developing new facilities for first responders at Witherspoon and Valley is going to add considerably to municipal debt. The redevelopment ought to be financed by *selling the two former firehouses on Chestnut and Harrison* and *pursuing a mixed-use component to the new firehouse*. I don’t support a nickel of spending on a new firehouse until the old ones are sold to help finance the project. Taxes are too high, and Council has already issued one huge bond sale since November to pay for our new truck barn. We can’t go spending more now.

  • Jim

    Far too many “closed door sessions” going on in this town. I don’t understand this town’s obsession with destroying it’s past. May as well build some strip malls on the Princeton Battlefield to help raise taxes so we can pay for the next demolition of Princeton history!

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Events Calendar

« December 2017 » loading...
M T W T F S S
27
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Sat 16

Jammin’ with Santa

December 16 @ 8:30 am - 11:30 am
Sat 16
Sat 16

Santa Comes to Kale’s Garden Center

December 16 @ 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sat 16

West Windsor Winter Farmers’ Market

December 16 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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