Members of the Grover Homestead Restoration Committee have been proactive about finding a possible use for the house, and by the end of September Council expects to hear about the site’s potential. Residents Peter Weale and Rocky Procaccini, co-chairs of the committee, have nudged the process along by taking a closer look inside the structure on Tuesday, July 31, along with Alex Drummond, West Windsor’s director of Public Works, and Geoff Brown of Princeton
Junction Engineering. What they found was a structure in better shape than Mayor Hsueh and former Business Administrator Robert Hary had described in Council meetings in the spring.
"The house is structurally sound but not habitable at present because there is no heat, indoor plumbing, water, electricity, etc. The current condition would preclude a certificate of occupancy. But uninhabitable and structurally unsound are distinct," Weale wrote in a follow-up email to township residents who are volunteering on the committee.
Like many others, Weale and Procaccini believe that the township’s willful neglect and mistreatment of the property caused its rapid deterioration from early 2009, when Mrs. Grover vacated the house, to the present. He says the township government has had three and a half years to take care of things at the Grover house, but he says in the two weeks he and Procaccini have been looking at its potential, much more work has been accomplished. However, some possible uses have also been ruled out.
"Our charge is to determine of the structure is worth saving, and we are arresting the leaking roof with the assistance of the township. If we can get those two things determined and it can buy us time, then the township can determine what we can do there. There are rather severe constraints — there’s not going to be any active or passive recreation or uses there. We might look at the possibility of having the community gardens relocated from the Sansone track (directly across from the municipal building). There are a variety of options though," Weale said.
Weale says he is concerned about the committee spending precious time just in an organizing phase, and even being micro-managed. But as of August 1 others had not had the opportunity to inspect the house or hear or read a professional assessment of its condition. David Goldstein, a longtime resident and High School South graduate who heads a building inspection firm in Robbinsville, was also planning to view the house with the permission of business administrator Marlena Schmid so he could lend his expertise to the committee. Schmid recently took over Director of Community Development Pat Ward’s responsibilities in answering public requests or inquiries about the Grover house.
Council Vice President Linda Geevers, who along with Councilwoman Kristina Samonte were appointed to spearhead the group, says she told Weale and Procaccini that no one can start making repairs to the house without the permission of the business administrator.
"There are liability issues and it is township property, so there are some protocols here that have to be followed," Geevers said.
Geevers says she has spent over 30 hours in getting information prepared for the committee, starting with asking Schmid to check into the items that are missing from the home such as mantles and staircases. Geevers said Schmid has asked for Township Attorney Michael Herbert and Police Chief Joe Pica to conduct an investigation.
"We also got in writing what the historical society took out and bartered," she says.
But Weale called the information provided so far "an inadequate inventory" which lacks any accounting of the financial amounts or values of each item.
Geevers said she and Samonte are working well together, as each is heavily involved and "working through the process in a very efficient manner." She said she hopes a written report or some account of the observations made on July 31 will be presented to the full committee, as they plan to meet every other week. The next committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, August 9 at 7 p.m. in the municipal building.
A day after inspecting the house, Procaccini sent a mass email to the group outlining Schmid’s requests of him following a meeting they held on Monday, July 30. He instructed the group to respect her request of not being contacted by many members of the group, in order to avoid an excessive amount of emails or calls.
In an interview, Weale said under the circumstances, "Marlena is attempting to get her position in control so she can address the issues that affect 27,000 residents." He appreciated the work she has put in on the issue in less than three weeks in West Windsor. But he sees the township’s inaction continuing to cause problems at the property.
In his emails, Weale explained how the condition of structures on the property had diminished due to a lack of protection from the severe weather the area has seen in recent weeks. For example, one of the red barns at the Grover farm collapsed on Saturday, July 28, due to high winds blowing into the building from its rear. The boards protecting the building from such heavy wind gusts blowing in, west to east, from the Dutch Neck area were not secured, and Weale says the barn essentially turned into a sail, allowing wind to blow in and topple it from the inside out.
"We just had a casualty with this barn because nobody did anything," Weale said.
Among the township residents involved are Debbie Hepler, recording secretary for the committee; Jonathan Word, correspondence secretary for the committee, and High School North student Aayush Sharma, 15, who helped by building a website to post information and updates about the site. The site — which can be viewed at http://groverfarmrestoration.webs.com/ — went live on Wednesday, August 1.
Sharma, who along with Geevers daughter Ashley comprise the youngest participants in the committee, explained his ideas for the website in an email to the WW-P News.
"It became apparent that we needed a website at our last committee meeting, when many people had documents that they wished to share. I concluded that it would be much simpler to upload the documents online, so that we wouldn’t need to worry about printing and distribution. Having a website would also allow the documents to be shared instantly, and there would be no need to wait until the next committee meeting to share them. I volunteered to make a website, and most of the committee agreed that it would help increase our productivity," he said.
Sharma says he has experience with web design, and he decided to design the site using webs.com.
"While building the site, I decided to add a separate page for photos, and to make a forum where we could discuss ideas outside of the meetings. At the moment, I am taking suggestions from the rest of the committee, and may still add or change things," he says.
Sharma said the site is not yet finalized or intended for use at the moment.