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Westminster Choir College special meeting Sept. 10

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Westminster Choir College special meeting Sept. 10

Westminster Choir College. (File photo by Phil McAuliffe)

A special public meeting to inform the Princeton community about the impact of Westminster Choir College’s impending move to the Rider University campus has been set for Sept. 10 at the Nassau Presbyterian Church.

The 7 p.m. meeting will be held in the assembly room at the Nassau Presbyterian Church at 61 Nassau St. It is being organized by the Westminster Foundation Princeton New Jersey Inc., which is not affiliated with Westminster Choir College or Rider University.

The Westminster Foundation, which opposes the move, states that its mission is to “ensure the continued existence and support for Westminster Choir College as an independent musical institution of world renown in Princeton, N.J.,” according to its website, www.westminsterfoundationprinceton.org.

Westminster Choir College is a specialized college with an emphasis on music conservatory training for its students, and with a significant emphasis on sacred music. Its mission is music education.

Speakers at the Sept. 10 meeting will discuss Rider University’s plan to move Westminster Choir College and its impact on the Princeton community, as well as the implications for Princeton taxpayers. Alternatives also may be discussed.

Rider University officials have not decided whether to sell all or part of the Princeton campus, which is bordered by Franklin Avenue, Walnut Lane and Hamilton Avenue. It is located across the street from Princeton High School.

“No decision has been made yet regarding the sale of the Princeton campus. It is still our intent to retain a portion of the campus, if possible,” said Rider University spokesman Kristine Brown.

The 18-acre campus, which straddles the former Princeton Borough and the former Princeton Township, is zoned for education and for residential use. Single-family and two-family houses, as well as attached dwellings and multiple dwellings, are permitted uses.

Meanwhile, the Westminster Foundation, which includes alumni, faculty and financial donors, said that preserving the Princeton campus is vital to the survival of Westminster Choir College. It was an independent school until its merger with Rider University in 1992.

Westminster Choir College, which was founded in the 1930’s, has faced financial pressures throughout its history, and that’s what led to the merger with Rider University. The university has made significant improvements to the choir college since the two merged, Rider University officials said.

But in 2016, Rider University decided that it needed to sell Westminster Choir College for financial reasons. It launched a world-wide search for a buyer, with the goal of finding one who would keep the choir college in Princeton.

Rider University found a buyer in a commercial, Chinese-government owned entity known as Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd., but the deal fell through earlier this year. The move ended a lengthy process to find a buyer for the choir college.

In the wake of the failed deal, Rider University officials announced plans last month to move the Westminster Choir College to its Lawrence Township campus, beginning in September 2020.

It is not financially feasible to keep the choir college on a separate campus that is seven miles away, Rider University officials said.

But opponents have challenged the plan, and filed an amendment to an earlier lawsuit – filed in Mercer County Superior Court – that seeks to block the move. The plaintiffs, or parties bringing the lawsuit, include faculty members from Rider University and Westminster Choir College, and Westminster Foundation members.

The lawsuit claims that the move to the Lawrence Township campus “will materially damage and destroy” Westminster Choir College’s specialized conservatory education and training programs because Rider does not have the facilities to provide for such programs.

“(Rider University) has no announced plans to build or finance such facilities, has not identified how or where it will reproduce or replicate Westminster’s facilities, (and) cannot duplicate in any reasonable degree the existing conservatory atmosphere and setting of Westminster,” the lawsuit said.

Rider University is unable to provide performing halls that are specially designed for voice, choral and operatic singing and the training of students in those fields, the lawsuit said.

Rider University cannot provide an adequate space to house the choir college’s extensive music library that contains thousands of music-related books, collections, music scores and periodicals, the lawsuit said.

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