Fact Check: “Rider says thanks, but no thanks as Princeton schools eye buying Westminster” (Updated)

A headline and lead to a story on NJ 101.5 yesterday claimed that Rider University has turned down a proposal by the Princeton Public Schools to buy the Westminster Choir College property.

Opponents of selling the land to the school district cheered when they saw the headline: “Rider says thanks, but no thanks as Princeton schools eye buying Westminster.” The story went on to say Rider University won’t take the school district up on an offer.

But Rider University Spokeswoman Kristine Brown told Planet Princeton the university has not rejected the school district’s offer. The top priority is to find a school willing to buy the college and keep it in Princeton, but Rider will explore other options if that does not work out.

“When we first commissioned the study into the feasibility of a one-campus model, we fielded inquiries in the property from multiple parties, including Princeton Public Schools. Since that time, and as the Board announced on March 28, a one campus model is no longer under consideration,” reads the statement Brown issued on Wednesday. “While we appreciate their interest and deeply value our place in the Princeton community, as President Dell’Omo informed the Rider community, over the next 12 months, our highest priority is to find an institution willing to acquire Westminster Choir College and keep it in Princeton.”

Rider could sell the college to an institution that will keep the college in Princeton. School officials said at a press conference Tuesday that the choir college could also be sold to an institution that moved the school to a different location.

Rider University has hired Price Waterhouse Cooper to seek a buyer for the school and campus and pursue several options. The process is expected to take place over the next 12 months.

The Princeton Public Schools issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it supports Westminster’s continued legacy but would like to buy the campus in case a buyer is not found who will keep the college at the Princeton location.

“Westminster Choir College has been a longtime friend and partner of the Princeton Public Schools and a valuable contributor to the entire Princeton community. We support the desire of Rider University to find a buyer for the college that allows Westminster to continue its outstanding legacy of music education,” reads the statement. “Should there not be a buyer willing to take on both the college and the campus, Princeton Public Schools would like to be in a position to explore acquisition of the campus in a way that would allow the District to carry on the college’s tradition of exceptional education.”

School officials said as a public institution, the district cannot move as nimbly as private entities, such as developers, to secure funding for new land.

“Consequently, the Board passed a resolution at its meeting on March 28, 2017 to put in place the preliminary steps necessary for the District to become a viable bidder on the property should it become available.The District’s long-term demographic report was also shared publicly for the first time at that same meeting. In light of the report’s projections of rapid and continued enrollment growth over the course of the next decade, the Board feels a responsibility to consider all options to meet the needs of our students. The campus of the Westminster Choir College could be one of those options,” reads the statement.

“Westminster Choir College has been a valuable partner to the Princeton Public Schools. The two schools have regularly shared facilities and Westminster students have taught music classes to our sixth graders for more than two decades. We deeply respect Westminster’s nearly 100-year history of artistic innovation and renown, and we hope the exceptional legacy of Westminster Choir College will continue for many more generations,” reads the statement. “We also hope that in the event the college is unable to remain at its Princeton location, both the college and the town will consider the possibility of the public schools becoming caretakers of the campus and continuing the tradition of educating leaders, scholars, artists and innovators.”