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In recent years, the city of Princeton has been enforcing rules to have natural-looking finishes on facades or highly-visible fronts of business and industrial buildings on Main Street and in the “Tech Park.” The decor of the new water plant (above) goes above and beyond the rules, but city officials involved in the project say it’s so massive and will stand for so long that it needs to have an attractive appearance. A four-unit office development by Ray Mabry (below) also surpasses the city standards, but Mabry said he wants “curb appeal.” Stone around his building actually came in panels and has a flange for installation. He said one of his two new buildings will house a new Kirby-Henning Pharmacy and have a better drive-through than the old South Main Street location. NewsTribune photos/Craig Sterrett
PRINCETON — Princeton’s Main Street and sprawling north business districts have gone through their metal pole building phase.
Today, motorists passing through town still will see a few plain-steel facades of metal-shell buildings, but they also will see more decorative styles of building faces on some of the newest business and industrial structures.
“We totally changed our zoning code in 2006, the only change since 1975, said Pete Nelson, Princeton Planning and Zoning Administrator. “In that new code, we do require natural materials to be used, at least facing Main Street. We can tolerate a metal shell on the sides and rear.”
A few businesses — especially north of the BNSF railroad tracks and between the late-1800s and early 1900s North and South Main Street shopping districts — occupy very functional but battleship gray or drab, tan metal buildings.
This winter, near some of those sparse, functional businesses, contractor Ray Mabry has been finishing new construction more in keeping with the grand old homes of town. Though he’s only building a four-unit, two-building retail and business space, there are gables, pitched roofs, earthy-green siding, white wood trim and low, rough-style stone rising from the ground to the base of the exterior windows.
Nelson said those buildings are more of a “Colorado look” than many others in town, and they feature stone and timbers. He said the design goes well beyond what the city design codes require. (Before the city revised its zoning codes, it had adopted international building codes as well in 2003.)
Artistic or even tasteful designs aren’t required.
“We’re trying to encourage better construction,” Nelson said. “That’s really our bottom line.”
The city’s “Tech Park” — several wired and ready industrial or business lots for sale east of Route 26 and south of Interstate 80 — has its own covenants, including rules similar to Main Street’s for natural-looking exteriors.
So, there’s stone and overhanging eaves on the exterior of a sprawling, large-animal veterinary building. But Nelson said the design of the facility is in keeping with the tastes of the owners of Bureau Valley Animal Clinic.
“I think people want a nice-looking structure,” Nelson said.
In addition, there also are natural-looking facades for new factories on the north side of town, including Italy-based Italvibra (maker of some of the world’s largest vibrators used in the mining industry) and Empire Acoustics (maker of sound-deadening materials for installation inside manufacturing plants or for along urban freeways).
“Plant construction techniques are getting more economical and advanced,” Nelson said.
It’s not necessarily extremely costly to use some of the facade materials available today. Rather than labor-intensive masonry work for stone or brick building fronts, many different styles of exteriors can be ordered prefabricated.
“Construction techniques have evolved to the point where you can actually mount whole systems to a building,” Nelson said.
The city ordered natural or pre-cast materials for all sides of the exterior of the most gigantic building under construction on the north end of town. There really is no front side to the city’s new water plant. At 45-50 feet high at the eaves, 200 feet long and 68 feet wide, the city plant towers over the lots the city is marketing in the Tech Park. Along with a water tower, the $17 million building rises as the most prominent feature on the Princeton skyline as viewed from Interstate 80.
Longtime Princeton water works employee and current water superintendent Mike Eggers said he initially heard criticism of the city building the structure of stone and also criticism of the designers, Farnsworth Group, for dressing it up with some lighter-colored blocks and tall, arched windows like those that adorned the old Water Street power plant that the city of Peru just demolished.
However, eggers said there’s good reason for the use of manufactured stone on the exterior and concrete for the interior of the building.
The sheer weight, or load, of such an enormous roof requires extremely sturdy weight-bearing walls, Eggers said.
Since the building is immense, the architects favored having some decoration to keep from having a drab, oppressive look to such a prominent structure.
“Especially with the area it is in, we had to do something that was still aesthetically pleasing” that would not adversely affect current business property values or the neighboring properties, Eggers said.
The large windows let in natural light and should save on electricity in the long run. And the walls are insulated for efficiency, too, Eggers said.
“That building is designed to service us for over 100 years, so we needed something substantial,” Nelson said of the plant that’s designed to definitely last 80 years. The new plant allows for future expansion of Princeton, as the city will be able to pump up to 4 million gallons of water per day, compared to the current 1.5 million gallons.
Eggers said concrete on the interior staves off rusting and corrosion problems that would occur if the interior had a lot of I-beams and girders. Municipalities with exposed metal inside water plants wind up spending thousands of dollars on scraping, painting and repainting metal.
“What (costs) you have in masonry up front end up more economical in the long run,” Eggers said.