Anne St. Mauro on Making Princeton the Most Beautiful Campus in the Country

In her 17 years at Princeton University, Anne St. Mauro has seen the historic Ivy League institution evolve, from the renovation of its buildings to the introduction of new sustainability initiatives

The state-of-the-art science facility accommodates laboratory space for both research and testing, which is connected to administrative offices by naturally lit pedestrian bridges.

In her 17 years at Princeton University, Anne St. Mauro has seen the historic Ivy League institution evolve, from the renovation of its buildings to the introduction of new sustainability initiatives.

Like any good college tour, our path across Princeton will start on the main outlet through campus, Washington Road, running northwest roughly down the middle of the university. The tour begins just off of this path at the site of Chancellor Green, where Anne St. Mauro is busy observing an octagonal rotunda featuring leaded glass windows and a large dome.

“That is absolutely my favorite spot on campus,” St. Mauro says. “I go in and I say, ‘This feels like Princeton.’”

Few at the university are better at leading this tour of Princeton’s innovative construction than St. Mauro, who starts from Chancellor Green and heads southeast along Washington Road. On foot, it takes about 17 minutes before coming to the tour’s conclusion, at Lake Carnegie. And, coincidentally, St. Mauro recently celebrated her 17th anniversary working at the university.

Having enjoyed previous tenures at Rutgers and Columbia universities, she says there were several factors that drew her to working in higher education. Along with experiencing close relationships, her work entails building for the betterment of students and faculty,
not developers.

She’s in touch with “some of the brightest minds in the world” in helping to coordinate the design of the buildings. In addition, she gets to work on an assortment of projects, from historic renovations to residences to high-tech labs and libraries. “We’ve probably added over 2 million square feet of space since I’ve been here,” says the assistant vice president for the university’s Office of Design and Construction.

When she arrived on campus, in 2000, St. Mauro says, there were about seven major projects in construction for the academic year, a situation she refers to as “baptism by fire.”

“I spent probably the next two and a half months just walking around campus from site to site to see how projects were going,” St. Mauro recalls. “There was a major dorm renovation that needed to be ready for the fall. Those projects are always white-knuckle, because whatever happens, students are going to show up, and we’re going to have to house them somewhere.”

It was about 10 years ago, though, that St. Mauro embarked on the first project on our facilities tour of Princeton, located just east of Chancellor Green, right along Washington Road.

Firestone Library

400,000 gross square feet

Expected completion: Winter 2018

Because the Firestone Library was constructed in the 1940s as the first large American university library built after World War II, St. Mauro and her facilities team recently recognized that it was time for an extensive renovation. Their main focus was to create a building well-suited to support modern-day library services. To accomplish this, Firestone Library is being renovated in various phases, without adding additional square footage.

“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube, in that you have to move books, people, and operations out, renovate it, and you try to do it in a way that you aren’t moving people too many times,” St. Mauro explains.

St. Mauro and the facilities team are now looking to improve navigability through the library, improve user spaces—study rooms, carrels, reading rooms—create efficient shelving layouts, and ensure that the building complies with updated fire codes, which will entail the installation of sprinklers.

Sustainability is also a major priority for Firestone, which will soon have energy-efficient lighting and controls, energy-efficient HVAC systems and controls, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. But these sustainability initiatives are not exclusive to Firestone. Since 2008, roughly 1.66 million square feet of new construction and major renovation projects have been built according to Princeton’s aggressive sustainability and energy-conservation guidelines.

In fact, another major project on campus—the new Lewis Center for the Arts complex—will be the university’s premier fixture for energy efficiency. It will include green roofs, geothermal wells for heating and cooling, daylighting controls, and more. This structure is also the next stop on the tour, on the other side of campus, just across the street from Forbes College.

Lewis Center for the Arts—Arts and Transit Project

139,000 gross square feet

Expected completion: Summer 2017

It’s perhaps one of the most complicated projects in St. Mauro’s tenure, given that the Arts and Transit project entails transforming 22 acres of Princeton’s campus into a vibrant setting for the creative and performing arts. However, what makes the Lewis Center for the Arts project truly unique is the sheer amount of structures it encompasses—three academic buildings, a train station, a convenience store, a commuter parking lot, and two former train station buildings.

Political issues complicated the project because the 22 acres spanned two municipalities that have since merged. Princeton had to receive approval through two zoning boards and land use from a regional planning board, particularly when it came to moving the train station.

Started in 2006, the project was, as of press time, scheduled for completion in summer 2017. Its buildings will support academic programs in theater, dance, visual arts, and music. Its performance venues will include a black box theater, a large music rehearsal room, and a dance theater. In addition, there will be new landscaped plazas, pathways, and green spaces.

But, in order to start construction, St. Mauro and her team needed to move a train station, including two 1920s-era stone buildings that separated Princeton from Forbes College, located directly across from Alexander Street. “It acted almost as a barrier,” St. Mauro says of the rail line. “We also had a traffic problem on campus that we were looking to resolve by putting another exit out of campus, straight onto Alexander Street. That also required moving the train station.”

To move the train station, St. Mauro and the university had to work in conjunction with New Jersey Transit to realign the tracks. From there, Princeton installed a temporary train station at the southern end of the site for a period of time, allowing the university to relocate the rails and get a new, permanent train station built. It was for a duration of about 14 months that Princeton had a functioning, temporary train station, St. Mauro says.

While the Arts and Transit project is one of the newest construction initiatives for Princeton, the next stop on the tour takes us back to Washington Road, to one of the southernmost buildings on the east side of campus, a building that was originally built in the 1920s.

Frick Chemistry Laboratory

263,000 gross square feet

Status: Complete

With a reputation as the first purpose-built chemistry building in the United States, in 1929, the Frick Chemistry Laboratory was ahead of its time. As the years went by, though, the building became outdated.

“You walked in there, and everything was very compartmentalized,” St. Mauro says. “It became very clear that in order to keep us a top-rate chemistry department, we needed different facilities.”

Thanks to a plan set off in 2005 to start designing a new chemistry building, a state-of-the-art science facility now houses the chemistry department. The space includes faculty and administrative offices and a skylit atrium connecting the laboratory wing with the administrative offices, providing for a more illuminated space. The new facility also incorporates a number of sustainability elements, including rainwater harvesting, a radiant-panel heating system, photovoltaic solar panels, an energy-efficient HVAC system and controls, energy-efficient lighting and controls, and cascading airflow from office areas to the laboratory.

This campus tour only scratched the surface of what is being accomplished at Princeton. As one of the oldest higher education institutions in the United States, the university remains on the forefront of innovation, just as it did centuries ago. The buildings contribute to this acclaimed history, and the aura of Princeton is undeniable.

“I feel this is the most beautiful campus in the country,” St. Mauro says. “It has great architecture and landscaping. It isn’t just about the buildings themselves. It’s about the open space and how the buildings relate to each other and the views and the vistas that are created in the landscaping that other institutions just don’t have.”