Preservation NJ, a nonprofit group dedicated to historic preservation, has named the Valley Road School among the top 10 most endangered historic places in the state. Kip Cherry, president of a group dedicated to saving the former elementary school, said the building should be turned into a community center instead of being demolished as its owner, the Princeton School Board, plans.
On the same day, May 22, the Valley Road School-Adaptive Reuse Committee and the Valley Road School Community Center Inc. voted to begin a campaign to put the question of saving the school on the general election ballot in November.
“May 22 has been a big day for saving Valley Road School,” Cherry said. “Not only does Valley Road School represent an important part of Princeton’s very significant history over the last 100 years, but as an adaptive reuse, we see the building fulfilling a major need in the future as a center for nonprofit organizations serving the Princeton Community. We see it providing office, classroom and meeting spaces for community organizations and, most importantly we envision two well-needed black box theaters.”
In order to get on the ballot, the petition must be signed by 10 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last general election. Because 20,328 people voted in that election, the petition would require 2,033 signatures.
When the oldest part of the Valley Road School opened in 1918, it was the first regional school in Princeton Township. Cafeteria and gymnasium wings were added in 1927, and a classroom wing, a library, another gymnasium, and locker rooms were built in 1949, the year after Valley Road had become the first integrated elementary school in Princeton. The original Collegiate Gothic school was built by the same Italian-American stonemasons who worked on the famed masonry buildings on the Princeton University campus. In the 1950s and 1960s, Valley Road received national recognition for its innovative science programs. After the Princeton Regional School District built several new schools in the 1960s,
Valley Road was converted to offices for the municipality, the school board, and the Princeton Medical Center. In 1989, the school board gave a portion of the school’s property for construction of a firehouse, and in 1999 the municipality moved its offices to a new complex across the street. Currently the building, which has not been well maintained, houses a number of municipality-related organizations, which have been ordered to vacate by June 30 and are in the process of moving out.
A task force formed to consider expanding the adjacent firehouse, potentially jeopardizing the school, is expected to report in May. Meanwhile, the school board has rejected a proposal from the Valley Road School Adaptive Reuse Committee to rehabilitate the school for use as a community center that would provide nonprofit tenants with affordable rents and shared infrastructure.