Westminster Choir College sale falls through

The proposed sale of the Westminster Choir College to Kaiwen Education has fallen through.

And now Rider University officials are planning to move the choir college from its Princeton campus to Rider’s Lawrence Township campus.

But the plan to move Westminster Choir College from its Princeton campus – opposite Princeton High School – has drawn fire from the Westminster Foundation Princeton New Jersey Inc., which was formed in response to Rider University’s plan to sell the choir college.

The Westminster Foundation, which includes alumni, faculty and financial donors, said it would oppose any attempt by Rider University to sell the Princeton campus, move the choir college to Rider’s Lawrence Township campus or take any other action that would harm its future.

Rider University’s Board of Trustees and Kaiwen Education, which is based in China, announced on July 1 that they had mutually agreed not to go through with the sale. The move ends a lengthy process to find a buyer for Westminster Choir College, which merged 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 why it merged with Rider University. The university has made significant improvements to the choir college since the two merged, Rider University officials said.

Now, Rider University has been seeking to sell Westminster Choir College for financial reasons. In 2017, it initiated a world-wide search for a buyer, with the goal of finding one that would keep the choir college in Princeton.

“The Board of Trustees and the administration appreciate the special connection that Westminster has to Princeton, which is why we went to extraordinary lengths to seek a future based in that community,” said board chairman Robert S. Schimek.

Since it has become clear that the sale of Westminster Choir College is not possible, a decision has been made to vacate the Princeton campus and move the choir college to Rider University’s Lawrence Township campus, Schimek announced.

“It is not financially feasible to allow Westminster Choir College to continue on its present course as a separate, fully operational campus seven miles from Rider’s Lawrence campus,” he explained.

And that is what led to the Board of Trustees’ plan to integrate the Westminster Choir College into the Lawrence Township campus, beginning in September 2020. There would be no changes in location for the 2019-2020 school year, which means it would continue to operate in Princeton for the near term.

The plan does allow for Rider and Westminster to explore the possibility of keeping a footprint on the Princeton campus – dedicated in part to the activities of the Conservatory for young musicians, with possible academic and artistic opportunities for students, Rider University officials said.

“Rider has never wavered from its commitment to supporting and sustaining Westminster Choir College since the initial merger in 1992,” said Rider University President Greg Dell’Omo.

Integrating the campuses is another investment in the future of Westminster Choir College and one that Rider officials believe “will also accelerate investment in Rider and create a very strong, resilient and cohesive university,” Dell’Omo said.

But Constance Fee, president of Westminster Foundation Princeton New Jersey Inc., said that any continued effort to sell the school or the campus “would result in a move to separate Westminster from Rider University and to transfer the choir college to an independent board or appoint a special master to secure a new charitable steward for the choir college.”

Attorney Bruce Afran, who represents the Westminster Foundation, said the group would block any effort by Rider University to move the choir college to the Lawrence Township campus and sell the property.

“The state-of-the-art Cullen Center and Westminster’s many other specialized facilities cannot be replaced at Rider’s Lawrence campus. A move of the choir college will severely damage this institution,” Afran said.