53 practice rooms promised with no permits yet

By Stephen Neukam

In continued preparation for its plan to consolidate Westminster Choir College (WCC) to the Lawrenceville campus in September 2020, Rider announced plans for 53 total practice rooms at the school by fall 2021 in a Nov. 13 email from Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen.

The email, which stated that it would follow best practices supported by the National Association of Schools of Music of one practice room per 10 students, elaborated on the timeline of each of the renovation and construction projects that are part of the $16 million to $20 million consolidation plan.

In addition to the 14 existing practice rooms on the Lawrenceville campus, renovations to Gill Chapel will include 13 new practice rooms and a proposed six new rooms in Kroner Hall are projected to be ready by fall 2020, according to the email. Also, 20 more practice rooms are expected to be included in the Fine Arts Center addition that is slated to be completed by fall 2021.

However, the university has yet to apply for permits through Lawrence Township. According to its Planning and Zoning Board, the process for getting a permit approved usually takes three to four months.

Vice President for Facilities and University Operations Michael Reca said that the planning for the renovations and additions has been underway for months. Once the internal approvals for the designs are given, said Reca, the university will move for permits.

“We are on schedule to have all of these permit documents and applications submitted in January,” said Reca. “From there, we anticipate having approvals for interior renovations in February and begin work on the projects. Shortly thereafter, we are looking to get land use approvals and begin construction on the building expansion projects.”

Reca said the proposed dates for permit applications and construction align with the renovations scheduled for Omega House, Gill Chapel, the interior of the Fine Arts Center and Moore Library. 

Freshman sacred music major Jordan Klotz said that the plans for “adequate” facilities were not going unnoticed, but he was suspicious of the timing of the announcement.

“It worries many students that this process is being unnecessarily rushed without thorough explanation as to why,” said Klotz. “Frankly, it seems like this came in response to the lawsuit. The administration does not like that students have chosen to resist in such a public manner, so it puts out statements like this to construct a facade that everything will be OK. We hope that it will be.”

On Oct. 29, a group of 71 WCC students, led in part by Klotz, filed a lawsuit against Rider in an attempt to keep the school in Princeton. 

Klotz also raised a concern with an interview that Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo did with WWFM that aired on Oct. 19 in which Dell’Omo said the renovations in preparation for the WCC consolidation were moves that the university wanted to do in Lawrenceville regardless.

“In fact, a lot of the changes, all of the editions we are going to be doing for the Westminster move, are partly connected to the changes we needed to do on our [Lawrenceville] campus anyway,” said Dell’Omo in the interview.

Senior music education major Max Brey was pleased that the administration has pledged that practice rooms would be ready for next fall but hoped that the preparations for WCC students and faculty did not stop at constructing facilities.

“Providing sufficient practice facilities is critical for the university to demonstrate a commitment to WCC, both for current and future students,” said Brey. “I hope that the committees are shifting their focus towards the quality of the instruments inside those practice rooms, and ensemble rehearsal spaces built to accommodate our needs. While practice rooms are a crucial building block of any quality music program, ensemble facilities have a more immediate impact on the Westminster experience and product.”

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