The school board for the Princeton Public Schools wants to buy the 23-acre Westminster Choir College Campus in order to expand and accommodate the rising student population in the district.
Rider University announced yesterday that it will sell the property on Walnut Lane in downtown Princeton. The university will seek to find a buyer for the school and the campus, but the school could also be move to another location by the buyer.
At the school board meeting late Tuesday night, the board unanimously passed a resolution authorizing the school district administration to take the appropriate actions to consider the acquisition of the Westminster Choir College site.
“There has been lots of talk about a $5 million to $50 million referendum. I would just say we have to not so much look at micro and need to look at macro,” School Board Member Justin Doran said. “We had a time in our country’s history where the Louisiana Purchase was an amazing thing, and to those people who stepped out and really took that risk, look at the reward. This is an opportunity that, in this town, has not happened in 100 years. This is an opportunity for us to really seize the moment, to rally behind the community, the town and our educational leaders to give them the growth our student athletes, our student artists, our students need to really expand their horizons.”
Doran said he favors pursuing the purchase and looking for ways the district can be the first to make a move to try to buy the Westminster property.
“There are a lot of really intelligent young people in this town that have so much to offer,” he said. “We need to give them room to run.”
School Board President Patrick Sullivan said the district has about $70 million in outstanding debt. The bonds will be paid off in the next couple of years, he said.
“So we have a tremendous amount of capacity to borrow,” Sullivan said. “It just happens to be a great time. I sort of likened it to if you pay off your car, and then go buy a new car, it just feels like the same monthly payment. That is in effect what we might see from an expansion of this magnitude. I agree with Justin that this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to make a statement for public education, and as a town we need to figure out how to do this. We just have to.”
Boar Member Greg Stankiewicz said he agreed with the Louisiana Purchase metaphor and the push for a “grander vision.” He thanked the administration for pushing the board to think of “a grander vision for the community.”
Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said the town is working in partnership with the public schools to look at how to provide for the public schools as the community continues to grow. “Part of this resolution is to work with them to see if they will be able to look at the Westminster property as a public schools site and give us the time to secure the funding and make the right choice,” he said.
The resolution authorizes the district administration to file a request with Princeton’s Planning Board to be added to their next meeting agenda to discuss the need for a future school site, and to designate the Westminster Choir College site as a future public school site in the Princeton Master Plan. The resolution also authorizes the administration to receive proposals from professionals in the fields of land acquisition, financial advising and bond counsel.
The school board also voted to hire the Spiezle Architectural Group for referendum planning. Spiezle did the master plan for Rider’s campus in Lawrence and the Westminster Choir College in Princeton. The firm also did a capacity study for the school district back in December looking at how each school building is being used.
“Spiezle has worked with Rider and has all the site plans for that property,” Cochrane said. “They could easily develop multiple plans on how to move forward with the referendum.”