July 5, 2017

School District Makes Offer for Westminster

On the same day last March that Rider University announced it was putting Westminster Choir College and its Walnut Avenue campus up for sale, the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) made known its interest in acquiring the property. But a few weeks later, PPS appeared to put the idea on hold following protests from those intent on keeping the prestigious music college in place.

Last week, PPS made an official offer for the property. In an email, Superintendent Steve Cochrane confirmed the offer. “The process with Rider University is a confidential one at this stage, but I can share that we have officially expressed our interest in acquiring the Westminster Choir College property,” he said. “That expression of interest was due to Rider by June 7.КIf Rider chooses to talk with us further about our interest, that meeting would likely take place in July.”

Rider has owned Westminster Choir College since 1991. Suffering from financial difficulties and declining enrollment, the Lawrence-based University announced the decision to sell Westminster this past spring. At the time, Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo said the goal was to find another academic institution that would either keep Westminster in place or move the school to its own campus.

But in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of the Coalition to Save Westminster in Princeton, Inc., no such academic institutions are listed. The suit, which says Rider does not have the legal right to sell the choir college, cites several real estate developers as among those who have expressed interest in the sale.

Asked Monday about the prospect of PPS taking over the property, the Coalition’s attorney Bruce Afran said that it was unacceptable.

“It is, frankly, incredible to think that the board of education of Princeton, of all places, would participate in the destruction of such an institution of higher education,” he said. “It really is a shameful thing that our school district would seek to join in the dismemberment of a college, one that is actually older than our public school district.”

While plans for what the school district would do with the property are not public, it has been suggested that some buildings might be kept in place for Westminster’s continued use. “I don’t know what they’re planning, but you can’t just take a college and say we’ll give you two buildings and you can continue to operate there,” Mr. Afran said. “It would destroy Westminster Choir College. The district wants to get more buildings, but that can’t come about at the expense of this college. If it continues this way, the board of education will simply be drawn into litigation.”