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Princeton U. Readies for Arts & Transit Project Construction

"Within the next month, we envision the (construction) fences coming up, and the buildings coming down."

 

Princeton University is preparing for construction of its arts and transit project, after the Princeton Regional Planning Board's December approval. 

The site is being prepared for construction. Some University-owned buildings along Alexander Street have already been marked for demolition, with placards for first responders as to the condition of the building. Some of the buildings were vacant and University offices in other buildings have been relocated.

"Within the next month, we envision the (construction) fences coming up, and the buildings coming down," said Anne St. Mauro, Princeton University's assistant vice president for facilities, design and construction. 

The project, which covers an area along University Place and Alexander Street just south of the McCarter Theatre Center and just east of Forbes College, includes a new Wawa convenience store and new Dinky train station for the NJ Transit train that runs between Princeton and Princeton Junction, three new campus arts buildings, and renovation of the existing rail station buildings for a restaurant and café. It also includes infrastructure improvements to the site and adjacent roadways, transit center and extensive landscaping.

The University is proceeding even though there are pending lawsuits opposing various aspects of the project. 

"...there is no reason to believe that these filings will interfere with or delay the project," according to the project's website. "The University’s view is that the sooner this project can be completed, the sooner the community can benefit from the improvements, opportunities and amenities it will provide."

University administrators shared updated plans for the design and phased construction of the Arts and Transit Project at a campus meeting on Monday.Feb. 11.

Ron McCoy, the University's architect, discussed the design while St. Mauro, discussed the construction schedule at a meeting of the Council of the Princeton University Community.

The planned project schedule is:

  • Spring 2013: Demolition begins, and the sidewalk in front of Forbes is diverted as utility work begins along Alexander Street. Some power lines will be buried below ground, and some utility lines will be moved across the street.
  • June 2013: Soon after the University's June 4 Commencement activities, the section of Alexander Street between University Place and College Road is closed for about six weeks as utility work is completed. Alexander Street traffic is rerouted via University Place and College Road.
  • July 2013: Alexander Street re-opens. Initial demolition on the Arts and Transit site is completed and the construction of a new commuter parking lot and temporary train platform begins. For a one-week period, the Dinky is out of operation and is replaced by bus service.
  • Fall 2013: The temporary train platform and new commuter parking lot open. Though the Dinky is operational from the temporary platform, riders have the option of taking an express bus between the existing station and Princeton Junction, until the new station opens in summer 2014. Renovation of the existing train station buildings begins, and construction starts on the transit plaza, new train station, new Wawa, and access road to the West Garage (Lot 7).
  • Fall 2013 to early 2014: The new roundabout at the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place is under construction. A temporary road provides access through the site and to temporary parking at the Wawa.
  • Early 2014: Traffic roundabout opens and road detours end.
  • Summer 2014: The new Dinky train station, Wawa, transit plaza and access road to the West Garage (Lot 7) open. The Wawa remains open at its current location until this point in time, when it moves into its new location.
  • Summer 2014 to summer 2017: The three arts buildings and public arts plaza are constructed. The opening date for the restaurant and café depends on the partner selected to operate the establishments.
  • Fall 2017: The Arts and Transit Project is completed, with the arts buildings in use for the fall semester.

St. Mauro said the construction phases were designed to minimize disruptions, and the University notify affected groups about work that will impact them. Signs will be posted to advise the public about new walking and driving routes. Maps that identify construction zones and new routes will be available online. People may also sign up for email alerts about new construction or transit information.

The three arts buildings will provide additional space for the University's Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of Music, and will bolster an arts neighborhood that includes McCarter Theatre Center and creating writing and dance spaces in the New South building.

"This is a transformation of the western side of campus in a large way," McCoy said. "It's 22 acres. It's the largest single development in the history of the campus, larger than the original campus of Princeton University." 

Highlights of the project include:

  • The Steven Holl-designed arts buildings — for dance, theater, music and administrative offices — will be connected on street level by a plaza and reflecting pool, and below ground by an open gathering space called the Forum.
  • The Rick Joy-designed Dinky Station and Wawa complex alongside the Dinky train tracks will be joined by a canopy, include heated and cooled spaces and restrooms, and provide easy access to the train and transit plaza.
  • The existing station buildings will be renovated. The northern building will retain much of its interior and exterior character and become a café. The southern building will be expanded to house a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating for 100 patrons.
  • A new crosswalk at Forbes College will mark the beginning of an east-west walkway across campus that will extend across Streicker Bridge to the Frick Chemistry Laboratory, while Blair Walk will extend from Blair Arch to the transit plaza, with new magnolia trees lining the portion of the path near the restaurant and café.
  • Parking Lot 6 will be converted to a green space, Baker Green, which may be used for outdoor arts events such as film screenings.
  • Covered bike parking, including secured bicycle storage, will be available at the West Garage (Lot 7) and accessible from Alexander Street via the transit plaza.
  • Sustainability features of the project include "green" roofs on all three arts buildings, geothermal wells for heating and cooling the structures, and a net reduction of 240 fewer miles traveled a day due to the access road from Alexander Street to the West Garage (Lot 7).

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