By Stephen Neukam
In a private meeting with students at Westminster Choir College (WCC), members of Rider’s administration revealed further plans for the Princeton campus’ consolidation to Lawrenceville and answered questions from attendees on Oct. 6.
President Gregory Dell’Omo announced that the renovations and additions to the Lawrenceville campus are projected to cost between $16 million and $20 million.
He reaffirmed that the campus would indeed move in September 2020 and attempted to dispute some criticisms of the university’s decision.
Dell’Omo said that WCC always operated at least at a $1.7 million to $2.3 million deficit every year, barring two years when “two large gifts” upended that trend.
In 2017, when Dell’Omo said that the consolidation would not serve WCC well, the projection of the costs was between $30 million and $35 million.
The president also said that following the proposed sale to Kaiwen, a Chinese company that agreed to purchase the choir college before the deal fell apart in July, the Board of Trustees considered closing WCC or moving forward with a consolidation plan.
Vice President for Facilities and University Operations Michael Reca said that the costs for the move may increase and detailed the proposals in place.
In the basement of Gill Chapel, the university is proposing 12 to 14 practice rooms. Along with renovations to the inside of the existing Fine Arts Center (FA), there are plans for a 25,000-foot addition that will include practice rooms, faculty offices, rehearsal spaces and piano labs. Omega House will be renovated over the summer to be the temporary housing place for faculty.
The renovations to Gill Chapel and Omega House are expected to be completed by fall 2020. The FA project will not be done until fall 2021, according to Reca.
Reca also revealed that space would be found for all of the materials being moved from Talbott Library to Moore Library.
Freshman musical education and sacred music major Jordan Klotz said that he was assured by the fact that Reca, who was the director of facilities at the choir college from 1992 to 1994, worked on WCC facilities in the past. However, he lamented that the buildings on the Lawrenceville campus were not what is in Princeton.
“The choral rehearsal that we have here has been described by our director of choral activities, who is one of the biggest names in choral conducting in the world, as potentially, if not the best rehearsal hall in the world, then in the top five,” said Klotz.
Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel Mark A. Solomon provided the university’s legal interpretation of the WCC situation.
Solomon said that contrary to the claims of others in legal disputes, Rider owns the Princeton campus and can sell the property. He rested this view on the fact that the Princeton Theological Seminary gave all of its rights and title to WCC when the choir college and Rider merged in the 1990s, according to Solomon.
Solomon said that the endowment of WCC would continue to go toward the college’s programs.
Bruce Afran, the attorney for the Westminster Foundation, which is the group that is attempting to block the school’s move in court, could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
In a highly emotional meeting, with a number of audience members crying, students delivered impassioned statements to the administration and raised questions and concerns about the move.
Klotz said that students were right to be engaged in any measure to keep WCC in Princeton because “we perceive this as the complete upheaval of everything we know.”
“Although we are open to change, we want change to come in the right way,” said Klotz. “If it is inevitable we must move to the [Lawrenceville] campus, we can take it. But we want the essence of WCC to remain.”
At the end of the meeting, the students stood up and began to sing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” which the WCC community came together and sang on Sept. 11, 2001, and which students perform at the end of every concert.
“It is comforting and it shows unity among students and we always hold hands when we do it,” said Klotz. “It was followed by a lot of crying. What was really cool about that was to see the faces of the administration — they recognized our resolve and they recognized that we were united.”