PHS receives $1 million for new concert hall

Money to be used for "theatrical, sound and architectural enhancements."

By: Jeff Milgram
   Two gifts worth a total of $1 million will help turn the new performing arts center at Princeton High School into a community concert hall.
   The donations — $500,000 from The New York Community Trust-The Scheide Fund and $500,000 from an anonymous donor — will pay for "theatrical, sound and architectural enhancements" to the 850-seat auditorium, said the Rev. Frank Strasburger, associate rector at Trinity Church and a former member of the Princeton Regional Board of Education, who approached the donors.
   Specifically, the money will pay for an improved sound system and acoustics, with some money left over for the music program, said Charlotte Bialek, president of the Princeton Regional Board of Education.
   "This is really great," Ms. Bialek said Monday.
   "I think it’s an incredible gift to the town of Princeton," said the Rev. Strasburger, who as chairman of the board’s Facilities Committee helped negotiate a $500,000 gift from Princeton University to help pay to turn the present PHS auditorium into a library.
   In addition, the Princeton Theological Seminary has donated $150,000 to the high school renovation and construction project.
   Ms. Bialek gave the green light when the Rev. Strasburger approached her.
   "At the time that the bids came in, it became apparent the auditorium was going to be stripped down to an ordinary school auditorium," the Rev. Strasburger said. "I asked Charlotte if it would be appropriate to seek funds."
   The board will acknowledge the Scheide Fund gift at its meeting tonight.
   The second donation is in the form of a pledge that will be paid in April, the Rev. Strasburger said.
   The New York Community Trust-The Scheide Fund was set up by Princeton philanthropist William H. Scheide. The trust made donations to the now-defunct Opera Festival of New Jersey.
   As a condition of its gift, the trust insisted that three arts groups — the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, The Arts Council of Princeton and the Dryden Ensemble — all get to use the auditorium at cost, the Rev. Strasburger said.
   That fits in with what the board wanted all along. "We had hoped to have a great community resource," Ms. Bialek said. The district already interacts with community athletic groups and Ms. Bialek believes there will be more sharing of school facilities.
   "The board is excited that the Princeton Symphony will consider the auditorium their home," the Rev. Strasburger said.
   In the past, the district and the community musical organizations have used Princeton University facilities.
   He said the enhancements will give Princeton a performing arts space it "ought to have."
   In May 2001, voters overwhelmingly approved an $81.3 million bond referendum to finance the first major school renovation and expansion program in Princeton in 30 years.
   In December 2002, bids for the PHS project came in more than $13 million over budget and the board asked its architect, The Hillier Group, to come up with cost-saving design cuts.
   Hillier reduced the new construction and demolition and increased the amount of renovation. In addition, some of the amenities the board had hoped for were made optional and would be included in the construction only if there was money left over.
   In October 2003, the board awarded a $32.8 million contract for PHS — $2 million over budget — to Ernest Bock & Sons, a Philadelphia general contractor.