Planet Princeton

Princeton Public Schools board wants to buy Westminster Choir College property

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.”

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.

  • Princeton Homeowner

    I watched the video from last weeks BOE mtg, it is obvious that they are not concerned with taking on additional debt, increasing our taxes, or how their decisions will impact the entire community (not just PPS families). They compared a new bond referendum to “when your car lease ends and you start a new one…”. They gave approval to spend an undetermined amount of money on a facilities study to decide if buying Westminster would make sense. That was compared to the studies that were done before the Twin Towers were rebuilt.

    I am alarmed that I haven’t heard any talks from the BOE about studies being done on the sustainability of the Cranbury agreement. Does anyone know if members of the Princeton community will have a voice in this decision? Does the BOE have the authority to renew the Cranbury agreement on their own? To be fair to Cranbury, they should be told now so that they can pursue other arrangements.

    In 1980s, Cranbury was supposed to regionalize with Hightown and East Windsor to form one school district. They did not want to do this so from 1981-1991 Cranbury sent their kids to Lawrence High School. Then in 1991, somehow they got Princeton to form an agreement with them, I would love to know who was involved in this decision. I don’t think that the present and future Princeton taxpayers have to be stuck with a past bad decision.

  • EXJP

    Private school kids aren’t returning–don’t worry about that. As the parent of two who left public for private, I can tell you that JW is kind of a deal-breaker, and once you’ve tasted life on the other side, you’re kind of ruined for public education in this town. The HS is fine academically, but crowded AF…no thanks.

  • FreshAir

    We have 722 currently at JW, who will come into PPS. How many at PCS are in the middle school grades 6-8 now? Add those to get the approximate base number being sent from Princeton residents to PHS in the future. PHS faculty kids also come into the District.

  • FreshAir

    The school is not overcrowded, nor will it ever be if we don’t renew Cranbury in 2020.

  • FreshAir

    The numbers came from the District website. The demographic study that considered current & future building projects in town was also posted there. That indicated only a tiny rise THIS year, occasional dips, then a return to today’s level. it may have been pulled from the website. We are at maximum or close to it today. The average class size is 19 in the high school now and only 17 in the elementary & middles schools. LOOK AT TODAY’S JW number TO SEE OUR FUTURE, plus assume some parent will come in to rent, as they always do, just to send their kids to PHS.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Are Princeton taxpayers subsidizing Cranbury students and if so, by how much? If the number of Cranbury students keeps increasing, and that is responsible for part of the over crowding at the HS, will Cranbury taxpayers be helping to pay for the increased taxes if the referendum passes? I don’t think Cranbury residents had to pay for the past HS expansion. That was wrong.

  • Liz Winslow

    ^^scratch that, math’s faulty there on percentage. Idea on private school kids returning, though, is still scary.

  • Liz Winslow

    Yes – part of my reply though was to underscore that the PCS kids eventually end up at PHS as part of the 1306 in residents. That was all. Trust me, I take your point very well on everyone, users or not, being on the hook for school taxes.

    But while we’re on the topic, what’s really interesting is how you get to 1,251 in the four elementaries; 722 in JWMS; 348 in PCS; yet only 1,306 residents in PHS? That right there ought to cause some shock and awe about how many parents are presumably pulling their kids for private high school. That tells me that only about 59% of residents who went to public school K-8 go on to PHS, right? Am I missing something? God help us if the private school parents get tired of being mooched off of for school taxes and decide to go public. I can see it now… “BoE calls for $10,000 special assessment per household due to dire situation of townspeople wanting their kids educated with their own taxes – demographer didn’t see it coming.” Madness.

  • FreshAir

    The topic is PPS facilities & a possible expansion of PPS. But, all told, the number of school age residents desiring public school education in Princeton is still a small percentage of our total resident population. We are at 3610+- this year… 11% to 12% of our population, and a much smaller percent of actual Princeton households.

  • Liz Winslow

    plus 348 currently at Charter K-8 (which in the BoE’s dream world would be consolidated with PPS), and iirc 33-49 depending on how it’s counted out of district placements. Absent adjustments by experts, call it 3900 kids total, or 3600 if Cranbury were out of the equation.

  • FreshAir

    PPS 2015-2016 Enrollment by division:
    • 1,251 total in elementary schools (Community Park Johnson Park, LB, Riverside.
    • 722 in John Witherspoon Middle School
    • 1,583 in Princeton High School

  • FreshAir

    Many in Princeton were looking forward to retiring that PPS debt. Those in our struggling middle class hoped that would reduce PPS’ cost per pupil to a number in line with neighboring Districts.
    Instead, concerned taxpayers are now hearing pitches from glib, hyperbolic District leaders. Since facts won’t justify more spending, guess they’re thinking their fantasies will. They have been salivating over the idea of “feathering in” more debt for awhile now. Our spoiled administrators crave more.
    Truth is: Our present school buildings have more than enough well built space to educate our kids. If taxpayers toured our schools & looked at the numbers they would see this. Using what we have well & being good stewards, so as not to tax the planet is called “sustainability”. Sustainability is supposedly a PPS District goal.
    Sad;y, “pride of place” seems a foreign concept, because a lack pride & care is evident in the upper schools. Looking at all the schools, there’s no need that some minor renovation couldn’t address in the schools. Forcing overspending or a new campus on Princeton taxpayers to accommodate Cranberry’s growth would be improper. So are new offices for administrators who aren’t managing our building with care.

  • Jian Chen

    I can sense the great enthusiasm and anticipation of the board members planning on spending other people’s money just by reading those quotes in the article.

    According to Mr. Sullivan’s number, the $70M of outstanding debt that will be paid off over the next several years amount to over $10M of principal and interest payments every year, which, I suppose, is included in the annual school budget. The board seems to have no problem whatsoever to pick up a bill of that size. Yet, it cried foul and used taxpayers’ money to hire consultants and pursue legal actions against the Charter School expansion plan which moves just $1M out of their control. Absurdity or hypocrisy, not sure which one this is.

  • Liz Winslow

    If there’s one silver lining to this mushroom cloud, it’s that maybe folks in town are seeing a little more clearly that it’s not about money with charter; it’s about egos, particularly those of the teachers’ union. Because obviously, the BoE views taxpayers as bottomless piggybanks for their visions of “The Louisiana Purchase” of Princeton. I still can’t believe that was even said, let alone echoed, Tuesday night at that BoE meeting.

  • Liz Winslow

    The rate is negotiated by the state, so maybe $17k seemed great in 2010, but not so much now. The time to be making exit negotiations is now, three years before the contract ends. Those snapchatting Cranbury students (who btw are from a J district, or richer, than Princeton, which is I) go right past the perfect fine WW-P schools every day. Or, they could build their own school. Did you move to Pton to subsidize Cranbury? I sure didn’t.

    That’s the lie of the whole thing – “We’d lose $5 million a year! We couldn’t function!” Well Pat Sullivan, yes you could – you wouldn’t lose the kids or the students until 2020, and I believe current debt is retired in 2021, so we’d have ONE lean year where any number of things could happen – postponed salary, a one-time special assessment on homeowners, whatever. But then we would be FREE of this Cranbury boondoggle, taxes would go down, and we could decide something reasonable for future PRINCETON expansion.

    Instead, Sullivan acts like one of my kids in the supermarket – oh no, there’s not enough money for milk, but candy bars and cheesy poofs that will make us look desirable to the neighbor kids? Bring it on!

    I suppose when one’s occupation is “private investor,” one needn’t involve oneself with such quotidien things as multi-8 figure bond issuances, and instead fight over the nuances of six figures’ worth of where K-8 students go.

  • Liz Winslow

    I’m well known as a PCS supporter (and was mocked for noting that the expansion equated to $47 per household, or the cost of a couple of pizzas, for kids for whom PPS wasn’t working), so I’ll put that out there just so you know who’s on the other side of the conversation. That being said: I was absolutely gobsmacked the other night at the BoE meeting when Pat Sullivan referred to the expansion as “The Charter Tax” and made, and was receptive to, other denigrations of Charter. Here’s the thing: love Charter or hate it, it’s educating kids *right now* (and people can go back on forth on how much money, but even Julia Sass Rubin’s massaged numbers agree it’s less per kid). This is a pie-in-the-sky dream to make a college campus out of a high school and middle school, and saddle Princeton taxpayers with the bill for the next 20 years. It’s amazing to me that the Board, in this educated town, thinks taxpayers can’t tell the difference when debt is retired or not. Here’s a thought: let’s have a few years MINUS debt service, have taxes go down, and then come back to us with a demographic study that isn’t garbage by the admission of the demographer himself, who didn’t account for charter’s expansion and apparently has no idea that Princeton won’t rezone the Butler tract for the same number of residences previously there?

    I mean, man. People in this town can fight all day about all sorts of things, but ENOUGH IS ENOUGH with the taxes and debt!

  • Princeton Homeowner

    – Princeton can no longer host Cranbury
    – Cranbury population projected to increase
    – Princeton BOE needs to make responsible decision for PRINCETON TAXPAYERS

    Per Cranbury Twp. Master Plan (adopted April 2016): “Cranbury has grown by
    54.3% between 1990 and 2010” and “The NJTPA projects that the Township’s
    population and employment will increase by 23.8% and 48.4%,
    respectively, from 2010 to 2040. In addition, households will increase
    by 37.9% during this period.”

  • Princeton Homeowner

    I can’t believe we are losing $ on the deal, the Board never publishes detailed financial data on the cost of educating Cranbury. Who will get to decide if the contract is renewed for another 10 years? Will the taxpayers have a vote? I have no issue with the families from Cranbury, they would be welcome to move to Princeton to attend PHS and join the rest of us “house poor” families that are paying 30% more & higher taxes for the same size house in Cranbury.

  • Liz Winslow

    We’re not. It’s on average $24k/kid to educate, and they’re paying $17k. There is one appointed Cranbury rep on the Princeton BoE. All those years of losses, and now we’re supposed to pay $50mm plus interest because of overcrowding caused by Cranbury? It’s beyond outrageous and out of touch. I can’t for the life of me figure out why the Board is so wedded to kissing up to Cranbury – which by NJ measures is a wealthier town than Princeton – and certainly less diverse. Apart from the Snapchatter from the other day, maybe they’re all nice kids. NJ is full of lots of nice kids. That doesn’t mean I want my town to go into hock to educate all of them.

  • FreshAir

    No one with half a brain believes the smoke & mirrors and “feathering in” debt talk that are part of their sleight of hand.

  • FreshAir

    Beyond atrocious, PPS doesn’t have the integrity to own up to the damage they’ve done in retrospect…via the apparently failed 81 million dollar PHS JW expansions & other existing contracts that drive our cost per pupil sky high. Instead of honest assessment and self correcting action, they want to increase the cost & intensity of this “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride” they’ve built.

  • FreshAir

    They’re just interested in building the Titanic, with absolutely no idea how to successfully navigate it. Just imagine all the photo ops and the lovely pictures of their big, perfect smiles they will get to post on launch day! That’s all that matters. The heat in the engine room, rats & sickness in the hull, and icebergs ahead are not their concern now, nor will they ever be.

  • FreshAir

    The Cranbury contract is unsustainable, It’s sad & inappropriate that the Board has no plans to honestly assess it. This is so disrespectful to taxpayers. Cochrane’s 4.5 year renewable contract, effective January 1, 2013, is another up for renewal.

  • FreshAir

    ….or fund Cranbury?

  • Princeton Homeowner

    I totally agree, it doesn’t make sense to renew the agreement with Cranbury HS. I am curious of how this agreement ever got approved in the first place in 1990. Might have solved a short term need but was not a good decision for the long term needs of Princeton. In 1990 Cranbury was only sending 107 kids to the high school, now they are sending close to 300. Cranbury should consider a bond referendum to build their own high school. Why doesn’t the school board ever discuss Cranbury and their future growth and whether or not we can continue accepting their students, might be because there are Cranbury parents on the school Board. We need an independent study done to determine the economic impact of Cranbury students. Every article I’ve ever read just talks about how we couldn’t possibly part with the $5million in revenue, nobody reports on whether or not we are actually netting any profit after factoring in the cost to educate 300 kids and pay for the 3+ daily bus services to Cranbury. It doesn’t make sense to continue renewing 10 year contracts with Cranbury and for Princeton to have to pay to expand the high school to accommodate their students.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    How will the operating costs for the new property be met? A referendum could pay for the purchase price, but the yearly cost of upkeep, and the salaries for the additional staff needed, is an operating cost that comes out of the regular budget. That’s an additional annual cost that won’t be used for education. The Louisiana purchase didn’t require upkeep.

  • Patty Koch

    If the Princeton public schools are up in arms about the proposed expansion of the Charter school because of the $1million (plus) loss of funds, how can they possibly afford to purchase the Westminster campus?

  • FreshAir

    Four and a half months ago, the Oxford Dictionary declared “POST-TRUTH” its “Word of the Year”. Regarding the pre-fix “post-“, Oxford explained the meaning in this case as: “…more like: belonging to a time in which the specified concept (“truth”) has become unimportant or irrelevant.” Jumping on that announcement and in light of world news that November, Amy Wang of THE WASHINGTON POST declared: “It’s official: Truth is dead. Facts are passe.” Today there seems no clearer example of post-truth in our own town than the PPS assessment of what’s needed to educate 3620+- Princeton kids choosing public school/ 11% to 12% of our town’s resident population.
    In her address delivered in the US last month, the Director of the World Health Organization stated: ” In a post-truth, post-fact world, views that appeal to emotions and personal beliefs are more influential than objective evidence-based facts… (and asked) What does this mean for public trust…..?” Not speaking for any other family in this town, but my family’s trust any leaders who speak with hyperbole or glibness to obscure fact is gone. If this is Princeton’s “Louisiana Purchase” of Princeton, we residents are gonna have to start a Freedom Suit to defend the natives (and end the enslavement of our wallets too).
    Westminster Choir College leaders have been an exemplary & beautiful force in our town… understating, never overstating, realistically assessing truths, and inspiring great talent in their own students and resident citizens. We applaud Westminster’s Board for facing the truths with class and dignity, In this era of post-truths and silly boys, what a relief to hear people in power dealing with painful truths nobly. Thank you, President Dell’Omo.

  • Robert Dana

    Well. We do agree on one thing. The property taxes in this town are obscene.

    Oh great Scot!

  • Bruce Lawton

    A school of any sort is a nuisance if the quality of life of the people who live around it are encroached upon. Years of loud yelling and screaming when kids are passing, trash – including whole lunches being tossed onto your property – occasional vandalism – yes – these are all nuisancs we’ve endured over the years and the idea of it not being just a block away – but right smack across the street is of concern. I’m the first of eight children and have a number of nieces and nephews, I love children (well mannered, behaved ones of which I and my siblings were brought up to be.) I fully got your condescending Dennis The Menace reference – clever you!

    As for the bulbs – just hope the kids don’t start picking them (which has happened – sometimes just thrown to the ground.)

  • Robert Dana

    PHS was there before the 1940s. The concept is called ‘coming to the nuisance’ – assuming a high school is a nuisance, which it is not. The ‘Mr. Wilson’ reference was to the old fuddy-duddy of a neighbor of Dennis The Menace, who took no joy in the wonderment of children.

    I hope all this stress doesn’t cause you to plant your bulbs upside down.

  • Bruce Lawton

    Well – my wife’s parents purchased it back in the early 1940s — what’s your point?

  • Bruce Lawton

    Not looking to sell or move.
    Alice Artzt was practically born in the house when her parents bought it some 70
    years ago – and we live here together – struggling as a classical
    guitarist and film historian – trying to hold on to what we have (having
    lost our NYC apt. some years ago – gentrification you know – and
    vowed that it would be our last move.). Maybe – we should just die and
    decrease the surplus population. The fact that our already obscene
    property taxes would invariably be forced up for this is especially
    galling.

  • Bruce Lawton

    Gotta love Clint Eastwood in GRAN TORINO !

  • Liz Winslow

    What we COULD do:

    1) Tell Cranbury now that we’re parting
    ways in 2020 to give them time to find a new HS where they get a $7k
    discount per student
    2) Lose 300 Cranbury HS students starting 2020
    3) Lose $5mm tuition starting 2020
    4) Have about one lean year we can plan for now before current debt is retired which is – ba dum dum – $5mm
    5) crowding problem solved without hastily throwing money all over everywhere (but shoot, then you wouldn’t have the $47/household the PCS expansion will cost to blame on all of the profligate spending)

    But these “visionaries,” LITERALLY are comparing themselves to Thomas
    Jefferson with the Louisiana Purchase. What’s the plan, put 10 kids on
    each of the 23 acres up for sale? Just because it’s a nice thought
    doesn’t mean it should be acted on.

    The demographer himself said
    his projections 10 years out were +/-20%, and the whole thing about the
    Butler tract was garbage, as there are no firm plans for it other than
    “residential someday after rezoning,”
    and part of the reason PU took so long to tear it down was b/c the town wouldn’t let it keep the zoning for such density.

  • D14

    Totally agree. And not just delusional, but also completely disrespectful and disregarding of the Princeton taxpayer. These people are going to bring a tax revolt to this town. Deal with the Cranbury disparity; negotiate with our large tax-exempt institutions for reasonable contributions to the school budget; sell Valley Road, preferably to a tax paying entity; bring administrative staffing levels, salaries, and benefits into the land of reality even if it means cutting them; and start behaving like the fiscal stewards you are supposed to be. Enough is enough.

  • TaxPoorInPrinceton

    Was this an early April Fool’s Day Story?

    When the $70 million of current bonds are paid off, could we give the taxpayers a break? How about not having a new referendum? Taxpayers could see their tax bills go down.

  • Daphne

    This is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read in a long time. They are delusional.

  • J.S. Beslity

    What a waste of money on consultants for a proposition that will never come to fruition. More land would be great but PPS will never get its hands on WCC.

  • Daphne

    “Get off my lawn!!!””

  • J.S. Beslity

    You could move.

  • Sarah Welker Tyhurst

    Also this is laughable that they think that they will be the *first* offer, as Rider has already had inquiries from organizations who want to purchase the entire college. You people just can’t be serious.

  • Sarah Welker Tyhurst

    And what exactly are their plans for Westminster Choir College? No thank you Princeton schools!!!

  • Liz Winslow

    …counting down till someone blames the Charter School for the debt…

  • Robert Dana

    Was the high school there when you bought your property, Mr. Wilson?

  • Anthony Michael

    President Dell’Omo (Rider U) stated in his meeting yesterday that the University’s top priority will be keeping both Westminster Choir College, students, faculty, and staff in Princeton. Simply put; the University will not consider this a serious offer: they are looking to find a replacement “parent” university….they’re not “selling” this school to the highest bidder at this time. This sale would only work if WCC’s buyer will move them to another location. As of now, the University plans on finding a COLLEGIATE “suitor” to replace Rider’s presence on WCC through another University. The fact remains; Westminster will be in dire straights for another year, but more likely than not, Westminster will be purchased by a collegiate entity–keeping the institution in Princeton.

  • CharterMom

    I think it atrocious that with the PPS 5 million in annual debt service per year which is currently owed for PPS’s last expansion is about to be paid off — and now that is about to happen, the board is talking about putting us into debt again to the tune of another 50 million with interest payments on top of that in amount of about another 50 million dollars to be paid out over the next 20 or 30 years. If I could purchase a rolls royce for a 200 dollar a month payment and it had the room for my five kids, but I had to pay 100K over the course of 10 years in interest, should I buy it just because the monthly payments are cheap and I have the ability to finance the car? Or should I buy a regular priced SUV or minivan that I can afford and which will allow me to transport my kids safely and within my budget and means? Spending is rampant in this town both by the counsel (now proposing another 3% tax hike), and the PPS board (proposing another 4+ tax hike and possible bond referendum on 25 acres of land that far exceeds current needs because of increase in kids in town schools). PPS should examine how it can expand the current facilities to make room for the new kids coming into town and not burden the taxpayers with any more debt than necessary.

  • Bruce Lawton

    HELL
    NO! It’s trying enough having school kids regularly traversing the
    entire long length of sidewalk of our corner property, making noise,
    tossing trash, picking flowers from the property etc. The idea of having
    the PHS literally and forever across the street, encroaching on
    everyday life is too much too bear or even contemplate.

Events Calendar

« August 2017 » loading...
M T W T F S S
31
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
1
2
3

Instagram

  • The book sale at the Princeton Public Library is in full swing. So crowded it's hard to move around. Sale today and tomorrow.#princeton #books

Follow Us

%d bloggers like this: