Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the

April 4, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

At Forrestal, Some History for Rent

Prospective tenants are now donning hard hats to tour

one of the newest office buildings along the Route 1 corridor. But

this is fresh commercial space with a difference. Albert Einstein

had just completed his mathematical formulation of a general theory

of relativity when the handsome brick building first opened its doors.

Now halfway through a complete interior renovation, Princeton

University’s

Chem Sciences building, located in Forrestal Center, opened in 1916

as part of the Rockefeller Institute. In the 1950s, the Rockefeller

Institute buildings were put up for sale, and Princeton University

bought them. "It became a satellite campus," says Phil Ludeke,

the Picus Associates’ project manager who is turning the 85-year-old

building into 21st century office space.

Princeton has moved many of the academic departments once housed in

Forrestal Center onto its main campus. Picus, the privately-held real

estate consulting firm that manages Forrestal Center for the

university,

has been demolishing many of the 20 to 25 buildings in what had been

the Rockefeller Institute.

That area, opposite Princeton Landing on the east side of Route 1,

is just a small part of the 2,200 acres the university has put

together

as Forrestal Center. It is now largely occupied by new commercial,

retail, and residential buildings. "But," Ludeke says,

"Princeton

decided it did not want to destroy everything. It wanted to keep some

history." The Chem Sciences building was saved from the wrecking

ball, he says, because "it’s one of the nicer buildings

architecturally."

Ford Farewell Mills and Gatch of Mapleton Road did the architectural

work, and the Yedlin Company of Herrontown Road is doing the

construction.

Ludeke, acting as the builder’s representative, is supervising the

work.

A graduate of Drexel University, Ludeke is a licensed architect who

began his career in Atlanta in the early 1980s on projects that were

unusual for their total lack of financial constraints. The firm he

worked for did a great deal of work in Saudi Arabia at a time when

"they were spending money just as fast as they could."

Ludeke’s

mandate was simply to find and use the best materials.

It was fun, says Ludeke, who made 13 or 14 trips to

Saudi Arabia to supervise the executions of his designs, but "it

wasn’t real world." His next job, working for an Atlanta firm

that specialized in office parks, was closer to the work he is doing

at the Forrestal Center. He came to New Jersey for a project he had

designed, the Horizon Center in Hamilton. Four of the buildings in

the office park were completed before the economy soured in 1990,

stalling the project. Shortly thereafter, he joined Picus.

Ludeke lives in Hopewell with his wife, Becky, who is a teacher’s

aide at the Hopewell Elementary School. They have three sons, a

12-year-old,

who attends Hopewell Elementary, a 13-year-old at St. Paul’s in

Princeton, and a 15-year-old, who is attending school in Vermont.

The Chem Sciences building is a test, Ludeke says. If Princeton can

operate it profitably as an office building, other buildings in the

former Rockefeller Institute section will be renovated too.

Converting the former laboratory and classroom building was

unexpectedly

expensive, Ludeke says, and a big part of the cost was demolition.

The exterior, including the original clay tile roof, is being

preserved,

but the interior is entirely new. The three-story building was gutted

to make way for new wiring, plumbing, heating, and an elevator. This

was no easy task.

"Back in 1916, buildings were made to stand forever," Ludeke

says. "The interior partitions were very difficult to destroy.

And because it was a lab, there was plumbing all over the place."

You’d think, he says, that the presence of a foundation, a strong

facade, and a roof in excellent condition would reduce the

construction

cost, but that was not the case. He says, "The cost of rehabbing

the building was as much as you would spend to build new from

scratch."

The building’s configuration posed problems too. "We’re finding

the length versus width very different from current office use,"

Ludeke says. "The building is more narrow than modern office space

would be." Another problem is the irregular placement of

structural

beams. "In modern buildings, structure becomes very uniform,"

he says, "so ducts can run in straight runs." In the Chem

Sciences building, ducts for wires, heating, and plumbing need to

be snaked around existing support beams.

While working with an octogenarian building poses challenges, it also

presents opportunities that generally are not available in new

construction.

The original windows were preserved, and they are very large. What’s

more, Ludeke says, they open. "We’re adding windows that are

operable,"

he says. The tenants will have the option of turning off the AC and

letting in fresh air.

The tall windows also help turn the 21,000 square-foot building’s

narrowness into an advantage. "Light pours deep into the

building,"

Ludeke says. "It’s conducive to an open plan."

The old laboratory building offers tenants an amenity that many

counterparts

in buildings that are decades younger would give their airy atriums

to have. "The Chem Sciences building has fiber optic cable,"

Ludeke says. Office tenants just a stone’s throw away are jumping

up and down, desperate to be plugged in to the high-speed

communications

conduit. "There’s a new building on Route 1 that could not get

the same fiber optic," Ludeke says. "It’s just across Route

1, but they can’t get it. It’s a quirk of fate that the Chem building

has it."

Ludeke says the building’s classic setting should be as much of a

draw as its state of the art communication system. Set among tall

trees, the Chem Sciences building is one of four in a quadrangle.

Another,

build in the 1950s, is occupied. The third is a power plant that once

supplied all of the Rockefeller buildings with heat and with chilled

water for air conditioning. The renovated Chem Sciences building

supplies

all of its own power needs, as will all of the buildings in the area

as they are modernized.

At that point, the power plant could be converted into office space,

too, Ludeke says. The building’s 2 1/2 story core, where boilers

now reside, has large windows and a skylight and could be a

spectacular

atrium, or two floors of offices. The last building is also a

candidate

for restoration.

The Chem Sciences building is leasing for $30 a square foot. Picus

is hoping one tenant will take the entire space. "It’s ideal for

the landlord to have one tenant do that," Ludeke says. Two

companies

are now looking at the space, he says, and each would want the entire

building. If, however, one tenant does not sign a lease for all 21,000

square feet, Ludeke says the space will be broken up and "marketed

aggressively."

— Kathleen McGinn Spring


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