Princeton Lake Campus
After owning property in West Windsor for almost a century, Princeton University is developing plans to create a Lake Campus on their property as an extension of their main campus, to serve as a hub for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The Lake Campus is targeted to open by 2022.
According to an overview from Princeton’s Office of Community and Regional Affairs, the university first acquired land in West Windsor in 1922, when several alumni informed the Board of Trustees that they would donate a farm south of Lake Carnegie along Washington Road to Route 1, if the trustees would purchase an adjoining farm. The trustees agreed, giving them ownership of 216 acres for future use.
The university expanded land ownings in West Windsor in 1945 and 1948 by purchasing two additional farms located between Lake Carnegie and Route 1, bringing the acreage up to around 400, before purchasing 90 more acres from the Sarnoff Corporation in 2001.
As part of Princeton’s 2026 Campus Planning process, the university decided to begin developing part of their West Windsor holdings into what is now being called Lake Campus. They have hired Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, an architecture, design and planning firm, along with James Corner Field Operations, an interdisciplinary landscape architecture and urban design practice, to create a Lake Campus Master Plan.
The university planners first came to the West Windsor Planning Board to discuss their West Windsor property and a potential Lake Campus last January. They followed up this January, with a presentation that delineated the key foundations of the Lake Campus, and how it would interact with the West Windsor community. Some of the main factors in this plan include expanding graduate housing, creating an innovation hub, cultivating open spaces and athletic areas, and providing additional visitor and commuter parking.
For graduate housing, the Lake Campus plan expects to provide housing for 550 to 600 additional graduate students. To this point, there were concerns brought up at the January Planning Board meeting that this may produce additional students for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, where capacity is an ongoing concern. However, “the university representatives indicated that, for the 1200 graduate students currently residing, there’s only a handful of students generated, so the expectation is that this will not increase too many students,” Planning Board chairman Gene O’Brien said.
Another aspect of the Lake Campus, an innovation hub, is projected to be around 138,000 square feet of area for students and faculty to tap into research and entrepreneurship as part of New Jersey’s growing innovation ecosystem. This will expand on Princeton’s growing recognition as a center for innovation; just recently, Google opened an Artificial Intelligence Lab at 1 Palmer Square to explore the growing field of machine learning.
As the overview indicates, this innovation center hopes to “foster interaction among faculty, researchers, students, and partners in the non-profit, corporate, and government sectors in order to fuel innovation initiatives and collaborations.” At this time, the university does not have plans to create academic buildings alongside this center.
The plan also indicates areas for open space and athletic facilities, though the specific nature of these facilities and accessibility to the public has yet to be decided. However, the planners hope that these spaces should serve to integrate both campus and community, through activities like performances and pop-up markets.
To connect this Lake Campus with the existing Princeton campus and community, the Master Plan includes a pedestrian flyover which would cross the lake and Delaware and Raritan river “to provide a safe and scenic way for members of the campus community, visitors to the campus, and the general public to cross the lake and canal without having to use the existing heavily traveled vehicular roadways.”
“There was a question brought up as to if vehicles would be allowed on the bridge, but the largest vehicles would be golf carts. One board member also asked if they are planning to connect Lake Campus with Canal Pointe Boulevard, but at this time they don’t plan on it,” O’Brien said.
The Lake Campus planners also hope to reduce the use of individual vehicles through creating a Transit Hub for carpool, vanpools, walking and biking facilities. This would be serviced by Tiger Transit, an shuttle service at Princeton that transports over half a million riders yearly. The current plan includes parking concentrated on the West Windsor side of the Campus, so Planning Board members suggested “that they move the parking to the Princeton side, since people will be walking to Lake Campus or Princeton downtown anyway,” West Windsor Mayor Marathe said.
Along with changes to methods of transit, the Lake Campus plan also proposes changes to the roadways themselves. Currently, the West Windsor Master Plan shows a roadway that would run northwest from Eden Way towards the Lake Campus area and up to Washington Road. However, the planners instead want to expand the road that connects Harrison Road to Eden Way, extending it parallel to Route 1 until it reaches Washington Road. To this proposal, the Planning Board was receptive, but only if it was moved away further from the Washington Road-Route 1 traffic circle, in order to prevent congestion.
Regarding Eden Way itself, the Township plans to donate it to Princeton University, since “it is a small stretch of road that is more useful to them than us,” Marathe said.
The entire Lake Campus proposal also brings concerns of additional traffic going through West Windsor from Princeton-Hightstown Road, which becomes Washington Road. However, O’Brien noted that Mercer County is planning to make improvements to Princeton-Hightstown Road, which should help mitigate traffic concerns. Furthermore, the state is planning to widen Route 1, which would also ease traffic congestion closer to Lake Campus.
Since these projects would be funded by the county and state, O’Brien does not believe this should have an impact on West Windsor taxpayers. But, as Marathe noted, the Lake Campus “will definitely affect municipal services. The kind of services have not been worked out yet, but there will surely be some impact.”
However, the graduate housing will be incorporated into West Windsor’s taxbase, which will help cover this additional cost. “Since this housing would not be tax-exempt, and as long as the number of students coming to the school district is not too large, this will certainly have a positive contribution to our township,” Marathe said.
“Now the ball is in Princeton’s court. They have gathered input, so they’re going to develop the plan further and reach out to us again,” he continued. The university representatives are planning to attend the Planning Board meeting in May with a refined concepts. “These conversations are leading up to the University submitting a General Development Plan for the project,” the overview said.
“We have a very positive relationship with the University, and we look forward to working with them,” Marathe concluded.