By Stephen Neukam
Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo laid out a sprawling renovation project and addressed the progress of the Westminster Choir College sale during a town hall meeting in the Cavalla Room on Feb. 28.
The renovation project, which was explained in further detail by Vice President for Facilities and University Operations Michael Reca, spanned improvements to academic buildings, residence halls, athletic facilities and dining areas. The total projected cost of these projects, both current and completed, was $55.2 million.
The plan included a $4.3 million renovation to Cranberry Cafe and a combined $7.9 million overhaul to Lincoln and Kroner Residence Halls.
“I believe dorms should have the most money [invested] because currently, the dorms are not the best compared to other universities,” said sophomore elementary education major Leilani Arias. “Money should also be put toward more parking on our campus.”
The most significant portion of the funds, $20 million, is allocated to the renovation of the Science and Technology Center Building.
Dell’Omo reflected on the success of the $4.3 million investment into Sweigert Hall.
“I think [the renovation] has really helped transform that building,” said Dell’Omo. “It has that modern, corporate feel to it. It really is a destination location.”
Along with the renovation progress, Dell’Omo also provided an update on the status of Westminster Choir College.
Dell’Omo stated that the arbitration case between the university and Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has been submitted and that he anticipates a decision from the arbitrator in April.
Additionally, Dell’Omo provided that the university has submitted information regarding the sale to the Office of the Attorney General for a review process. Dell’Omo conceded that the process was time-consuming and did not have a time table for a response. He also told the audience that the two separate litigation cases surrounding the sale would be lengthy.
“I hear [President Dell’Omo is] not selling the place. Well he can’t sell it, everyone knows this but Greg [Dell’Omo],” said AAUP President Michael Brogan, who did not attend the town hall. “He’s wasted tons of money, [student] money. He’s ruined the reputation of Rider University that took 150 years to build.”
Rider Chief Financial Officer James Hartman, whose hiring was announced on Feb. 13, addressed the crowd and spoke on the university’s budget forecast for the next fiscal year.
Hartman revealed that the university is forecasting a $4.7 million deficit. He pointed out that this number is a $1.4 million improvement from the current year’s projection. He also acknowledged that lower revenue has been driven by declined enrollment numbers, among a number of other factors.
Dell’Omo discussed the importance of the university to remain competitive to improve enrollment. He outlined strategies such as price resets, freezes and matches as methods that other universities have used to remain attractive and affordable for prospective students. Dell’Omo explained that the effectiveness of these programs has yet to be determined.
“[If we] make a mistake and put a plan in place [and don’t] map it out and think about what it is going to look like over the next four to eight years, these things can have spillover effects,” said Dell’Omo.
He revealed that the university has enlisted the help of Human Capital Research Corporation, an economic development agency based in Illinois, to undertake a “major” pricing study that began in the past months. Dell’Omo hoped that he will have a plan to present to the board of trustees by May.
Dell’Omo teased record-setting fundraising efforts in the future. The university is in the “silent phase” of a fundraising campaign that Dell’Omo said was “off to a better start this year,” than last year’s $13 million mark. The “silent phase” is a period in which the fundraising campaign has yet to be revealed to the masses of university donors.
“I’m happy to say that, right now, we are over $17 million this year,” said Dell’Omo. “That does not include some other gifts that we have not even announced yet. I’m hoping to be able to announce, in a relatively short period of time, the largest gift that this university has ever recieved.”
Dell’Omo revealed a number of other initiatives that the university has undertaken: a growing online course roster, addition of new undergraduate and graduate programs and the implementation of programs and committees to help the growing number of underrepresented students that are admitted to the university.