January 4, 2012

A $3 Million Gift From Foundation Goes Toward New Hall at Westminster

Its graduates go on to perform in some of the most renowned opera houses and concert halls throughout the world. But Westminster Choir College of Rider University lacks an up-to-date performance space of its own. Students take part in recitals, concerts, and workshops at Bristol Chapel, Williamson Hall and The Playhouse, each with its own charms but without the seating capacity and technological capabilities that might be expected of a school of its stature.

A recent $3 million infusion by an alumnus of the College is designed to remedy the situation. The Henry L. Hillman Foundation’s gift to Westminster will help support construction of a $7.5 million new academic and performance building planned for the Princeton campus. The gift brings total funds raised for the project to approximately $4.2 million, leaving $3.3 million still to be raised.

“This is the first new building on the Westminster campus since the Scheide Student Center opened in 1975,” said Westminster Dean Robert L. Annis, in an email. “Its primary function will be to meet the educational needs of today’s students, enabling us to better prepare our students for successful careers in music.”

KSS Architects of Princeton provided the preliminary drawings for the project. The 3,000-square-foot building will house a performance and rehearsal hall, with a large lobby, a “green room” for performers, and other amenities for guests. Three flexibly configured classrooms will be used for a range of academic and choral events. The building, to be designed in the Georgian Revival style of others on the campus, will be located next to The Playhouse, creating a new quadrangle and courtyard that will be a primary outdoor venue for student and alumni events. There will be improved access to The Playhouse, which will be connected.

The Hillman Foundation is located in Pittsburgh. A graduate of Princeton University, Henry L. Hillman was the heir to a steel-and-coke fortune who steered the family firm into real estate and venture capital, according to Forbes Magazine. It is Mr. Hillman’s wife, Elsie Hillman, who is an alumna of Westminster. A philanthropist and community leader in Pittsburgh, she serves on the boards of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and other cultural organizations, and was a member of the Republican National Committee where she encouraged women and minorities to run for office.
The new hall will recognize the HIllman family by naming the College performance portion of the building The Hillman Performing Arts Center. It will be part of Marion Buckelew Cullen Hall, named for the philanthropist who has contributed a planned gift to Westminster and to the overall project.

Westminster Choir College was an outgrowth of the Westminster Choir, which was founded in Dayton, Ohio in 1920. The choir school relocated to Princeton in 1932, and the campus opened in its current location two years later. In 1991, Westminster merged with Rider College in Lawrence Township, which was renamed Rider University. Westminster’s Princeton campus was maintained in the merger.

In 2007, Rider president Mordechai Rozanski announced the creation of the Westminster College of the Arts. A cooperative agreement with the Princeton Regional Schools, engineered by Mr. Annis, allows for up to 40 performances a year in the Regional Performing Arts Center at Princeton High School.

The Hillman Foundation donation is one of the largest in Westminster’s history. The gift is especially meaningful, Mr. Annis said, since Ms. Hillman is a member of the Talbott family, which helped found the College. The Talbott library on campus is named for that family. Over the years, the Hillman family has supported such projects as the Elsie Hilliard Hillman Chair for Artistic Direction, and endowed scholarships and technology.

The University will present concepts for campus development, including the performance hall, to the Regional Planning Board, at a date to be determined.