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
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
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
as Forrestal Center. It is now largely occupied by new commercial,
retail, and residential buildings. "But," Ludeke says,
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
Ford Farewell Mills and Gatch of Mapleton Road did the architectural
work, and the Yedlin Company of Herrontown Road is doing the
Ludeke, acting as the builder’s representative, is supervising the
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."
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
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
expensive, Ludeke says, and a big part of the cost was demolition.
The exterior, including the original clay tile roof, is being
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
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
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
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
The original windows were preserved, and they are very large. What’s
more, Ludeke says, they open. "We’re adding windows that are
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
Ludeke says. "It’s conducive to an open plan."
The old laboratory building offers tenants an amenity that many
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
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
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.
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
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
atrium, or two floors of offices. The last building is also a
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
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
— Kathleen McGinn Spring
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