Proposed Land Swap Would Solve Problem of Where to Put Firehouse

Town Topics
2 November, 1988

Proposed Land Swap Would Solve Problem of Where to Put Firehouse

Barbara L. Johnson

A land swap between the Township and the Board of Education may clear the Way for construction of a new firehouse in the Township. What N proposed is that the Township deed to the School Board 14 Township-owned acres next to the Johnson Park School in return for the part of the Valley Road building parking lot which is owned by the School District and is needed for the new firehouse. The proposed land swap was announced last Monday by Township Mayor Kate Litvack and School Board member Corinne Kyle. The announcement follows months of negotiations involving representatives of the Board of Education and Township Committee concerning locating the firehouse on the Valley Road building parking lot.

Mayor Litvack and Mrs. Kyle” described the swap as a solution that addresses two important problems facing Princeton residents — where to put the new firehouse and how to meet future needs of an expanding population and climb-Mg school enrollment. “We’re swapping one need for another,” Mayor Litvack remarked.

No value has been assigned to either parcel, and according to the mayor there was no thought of doing so. Instead, as she described it, the negotiations became unblock-ed at the moment that discussion of land values and monetary exchange was laid aside in favor of discussion of the School Board’s problems and the Township’s problems.

The Township-owned 14 acres next to the Johnson Park School is the only vacant land adjacent to any school in the district. The parcel is a wooded rectangle which lies between a similar sized parcel along Rosedale Road owned by Mrs. R.W. Johnson and the 16 acres on which the school and its playing fields are located. Gen. and Mrs. John-son gave the land to the Town-ship for a school mariy years ago.

Mrs. Kyle says that there are no specific plans for how that 14 acres may be used, but she points out that the ratio of land to students has become an increasingly important factor to the State in recent years, even if the land is not used She suggested that the School Board may someday want to add to Johnson Park School or create additional playing fields on the property. This will give as tar greater flexibility,” she said.

Mayor Litvack said that all members of Township Committee had been informed of tin proposed land swap and wen in agreement. But there will in a public hearing, discussion and formal vote at Commit tee’s Monday, November 21 meeting. If Township Committee adopts the recommenda Lion, the proposal will be presented to the School Board the following evening, Tuesday November 22, with time so aside during that meeting for public comment prior to a School Board vote.

Both Mrs. Litvack and Mrs. Kyle expressed their apprecia. tion to the volunteer fire companies for their patience during the negotiations, which began last March. A year ago, in September 1987, the Township presented a proposal to the School Board to locate the firehouse on the Valley Road parking lot. The board rejected the request out of concern for safety of school children and the neighborhood. The School Board also questioned how parking for District employees and municipal employees could be accommodated.

The Township then looked to other sites within the Valley Road-Witherspoon Street area that had been recommended by the Shand Report. But each alternative presented its own set of difficulties, and the Valley Road building parking lot gained currency once again — if the School Board could be persuaded to reverse its earlier vote.

Negotiations began anew in March. “We recognized the pressing need for a new firehouse location,” Mrs. Kyle said in a jointly prepared statement, “and we agreed to work together with the Township to try to Mid a way to meet the needs of the Township, the Borough and the School District.”

Solving the parking problems occupied much of the negotiating time. The proposed new firehouse will not only take up the entire parking lot now used by Township employees and visitors, but it will cut deeply into the School District’s “inner courtyard” space. That space is now used to service school buses as well as to provide parking for District and Town-ship employees.

To help solve the parking problem, it is proposed that the Community Park Pool parking lot be “squared off” to accommodate more cars and redesigned to improve traffic flow. Engineering for this proposal has already been done by the Fellows Read Co.. and the Township will seek a commitment from the Borough to share in the cost before proceeding with the construction.

Borough Mayor Barbara Sigmund, who was present “in a supporting role” at the press conference announcing the land swap, said the matter would be taken up at the Borough’s agenda meeting this week. The cost to redesign the parking lot is estimated at $150,000, and it is proposed to be shared two. thirds Township. one-third Bor-ough.

With the redesign, the swimming pool lot can meet the parking needs of Township employees, visitors and Community Park School teachers during the portion of the year when school is in session. In summer months, when school is closed and when the lot is needed for pool users, some parking for Township employees will be made available at the school parking lot and in the inner courtyard. To create additional space in that courtyard, school buses will be stored at the Township-owned former Suburban Bus Terminal on John Street.

When school reopens in the fall, municipal parking will shift back to the enlarged pool lot, and the school buses will move back to the courtyard. The redesign of the lot will also include a drop-off and pick-up place for Community Park School parents who drive their children to or from school. The Sewer Operating Committee has agreed to allow the School District to store certain items like school bleachers that are currently stored in the courtyard at the transfer station on River Road.

Finally, in consideration of neighbor concerns about the possible hazards in having a firehouse close to an elementary school and in a populous neighborhood, it is proposed that the Fire Department develop a safety program “for school children, community members and firefighters.”

Questions were asked about the the sale of the Chestnut Street I Firehouse and the cost of the proposed new facility, but it L was clear that those hurdles .• have still to be met. But it was also noted by Eric Karch of Engine Co. No 3 that the “telesquirter” the Fire Department expects in 1991 is planned to be housed in the facility. And that the new ladder truck expected in 1945 won’t fit in any of the existing fire houses.

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