Princeton has witnessed over 20 years of lamentable neglect and lack of stewardship of highly valuable real property commonly known as the Valley Road School. Isn’t it time for a united Princeton to seize the initiative in resurrecting this facility for beneficial use to provide needed services to the community while achieving savings to the taxpayer at the same time? We really do know how to do it. Let’s get something done!
Having been involved in some depth with the Valley Road facilities, one could recount a multitude of misadventures and inaction by the Board of Education, Princeton Township, and a host of others as responsible stewards of community real property. A few examples:
For years, the parties argued about who owned what, who should pay, and how much. During the Township’s lengthy occupancy little was done to maintain or repair the facility while continually complaining of its poor condition, employee health issues, and inadequacy for its mission. Having then justified the need, the Township built what some refer to as the Princeton Township Taj Mahal, abandoning the school to further neglect and disuse. Soon thereafter, the school district completed a monumental $85 million school construction program plus floated a recent $11 million bond issue without addressing the dilapidated building or working with the town to resolve final disposition of the Valley Road School. A book could be written.
The good news is Valley Road School and other municipal facilities issues are now before a united Princeton community. This creates a wonderful opportunity to use innovative funding and project delivery approaches now being widely employed nationally to build and renovate community infrastructure. A spectrum of methods, including public-private partnerships and many hybrids with or without private ownership plus non-profit private 501(c)3 entities, among others, are available.
The Valley Road School is an ideal candidate for creation of a community center by a recently established, local 501(c)3 nonprofit for supporting service organizations through conversion and repurposing using sustainable adaptive reuse. This project for adaptive reuse will require modest or no taxpayer funding for conversion, operations, and maintenance and the multiple community service non-profit tenants will be self-supporting. Further, Valley Road School continues to house community service organizations even after relocation of Corner House to prime Class A space in the former Borough Hall. Note that the just voted $11 million bond issue for the school district funds significant projects of a similar character, especially repair, renovation and repurposing, for existing underutilized or deficient facilities.
Most important, current beneficial use and occupancy will continue and additional use commence almost immediately while work proceeds. Let’s do it!
John Clearwater, PE
Editor’s note. See the May 18, 2011, edition of U.S. 1 for background on the effort to save the Valley Road School.