University chemistry building, pedestrian bridge approved

Planning Board vote is unanimous

By: Katie Wagner
   Princeton University’s plan for a new chemistry building with a 300-foot pedestrian bridge over Washington Road has received unanimous approval from the Regional Planning Board of Princeton.
   The project would move the university’s entire chemistry department from the nearly 80-year-old Frick Lab, located on the corner of Washington Road and William Street, to a new facility to built on the site of the university armory building — a one-story mixed-used building on Washington Road, near Princeton Stadium that will be demolished.
   The new chemistry building will include four stories of regularly used space and a storage penthouse on its fifth floor. It will occupy approximately 260,000 square feet and will have a slightly smaller footprint than the armory. Like the current chemistry building, the new one will contain teaching and research labs, department offices and an auditorium.
   The pedestrian bridge will provide a means of crossing over Washington Road at the site of the new chemistry building and be exclusively used by pedestrians and bicyclists. It will have four points of egress and ingress, with the southeast point located on the western side of the chemistry building, the northeast point located on the western side of Jadwin Hall, the northwest point located on the eastern side of Carl Icahn Lab and the southwest point located to the east of another science facility to be built.
   The bridge, which University Architect John Hlafter said, "would in a way be a work of art," was designed by Swiss engineer Christian Menn and the New York architectural firm HNTB. It will span 300 feet, reach a maximum height of 20 feet above Washington Road and will have slopes of 5 percent or less.
   Other details of the project include the creation of a nature trail that will run along the west and south sides of the chemistry building, a shifting of Jadwin Drive slightly southward and the construction of a cobblestone pedestrian plaza at the eastern part of Jadwin Drive.
   One of the new chemistry building’s advantages is that it will be more energy efficient than the current one. Its sophisticated heating and cooling ventilation system includes photovoltaic panels. James Wallace, the project manager, said the environmental conditions for occupants should exceed standards and that the heating and cooling system will allow fire hoods used in research to operate extra efficiently.
   With the demolition of the armory, will come the removal of approximately 91 parking spaces, located to the east and west of the building, which will not be replaced.
   Despite unanimous approval of the chemistry building plans, during Thursday’s meeting board members expressed concerns about several aspects of the project, such as the Jadwin Hall loading area’s ability to handle additional deliveries to the new chemistry building. Members also questioned the uses of the armory, where those uses would go, how parking needs would change once the new chemistry building was opened and if adequate parking would be available.
   "What parking is the new building really generating in its own use?" asked Yina Moore, a board member. "I would prefer more information about the rationale, not just the shift, but whether the new population has been considered."
   Board Member Marvin Reed wanted to know the impact the non-university users of the chemistry building would have on parking, because he said it was sure to be a popular place for "scientific colloquia" among prominent scholars.
   "Because of the large auditorium and lecture halls, it’s logical that the building would probably be used not just for lectures for students and the chemistry department, but will be an attractive place for the department to sponsor public events," Mr. Reed said, in an interview after the meeting.
   The safety of the pedestrian plaza that will be shared among pedestrians and vehicles was another concern of board members.
   "We basically tell users, ‘You’re in a shared space and you pay attention,’" said Georges Jacquemart, a traffic engineer, who served as a witness during the chemistry building application presentation. "We feel very comfortable that it will be a safe space."
   Board member Gail Ullman said she didn’t buy this because she didn’t think scholars and students behaved like regular people. Board members were also skeptical about Mr. Jacquemart’s claim that the road’s "pedestrian feel" would alert drivers to slow down.
   The amount of light spillage the pedestrian bridge’s lighting would create sparked so much concern among the board and township professionals that a re-evaluation of the lighting was made a condition of the application’s approval.
   Fall 2010 is the anticipated date of completion for the project and the university received special permission to begin early application for permits for particular aspects of the project.