Monday, November 14, 2011

250-Acre 'Skillman Village' to Return to Nature

From The Courier News. 

This is absolutely awesome news. When I lived in that area, all the talk was of turning it into "Skillman Village." It was a fait accompli. That was, of course, before The Great Recession.

MONTGOMERY — For more than a century it was a home to epileptics and psychiatric patients — and a draw to thrill seekers hoping to glimpse a ghost in the creepy, abandoned buildings.

On Tuesday morning, Somerset County and township officials closed on a deal that ensures the former site of the North Princeton Developmental Center returns to nature.

The $15.9 million sale of the 250-acre Skillman Village by the township to the county ends years of negotiations and one-time visions of thousand-home neighborhoods, a performing-arts center and even an ice rink.

The county’s Improvement Authority will pay the township using funds from the county Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The county, which plans to develop the land into Skillman Park, also appropriated $250,000 from the open-space fund to pay an arborist to determine how best to manage and preserve the park’s trees.

After abandoning the property in 1998, the state in 2005 sold it to Montgomery for $5.95 million.

The township spent more than $16 million razing the 100 buildings — including a morgue, a power plant, houses, a hospital and a firehouse — that for decades had made the facility its own self-contained village.

The New Jersey Village for Epileptics was founded in 1898. In 1953, it became the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute, and later, the North Princeton Developmental Center.
The facilities at one time housed as many as 1,500 patients and employees, officials said.
Soon, however, the park will be ready for cyclists, joggers and hikers.

“Give us a year, and this will be a dream come true,” Freeholder Patricia L. Walsh said.
Skillman Park becomes part of more than 6,000 acres of open space in Montgomery, nearly a third of the land area in the township of 22,000 people.

The park and the other parcels of preserved land surrounding it near Skillman and Burnt Hill roads total about 1,100 acres, officials said.

Township resident Michael Mathews, who attended the signing of the deed transfer at the park, called the property “the Central Park of the township of Montgomery.”

“We have enough cul-de-sac houses. We have enough golf courses. We have enough shopping malls,” he said. “Seventy-five years from now the kids are going to want to have open space. It’s vital to the health of a community.”

Mayor Mark Caliguire said township and state officials started discussions in 1993, as the state scaled back use of such institutions as the developmental center in favor of modern facilities.

Caliguire said the land “was not only an eyesore but dangerous.”

“It got hard to keep the plywood on the windows, because it was listed in Weird N.J. So you had kids coming in and breaking into the buildings,” he said.

Now, “the dangerous and dilapidated buildings are gone, and we will see this place preserved as open space forever.”

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