SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The major round of rebuilding that is getting underway at Seton Hall actually began as long as two years ago, when the Seton Hall Executive Cabinet reviewed the campus master plan and came up with a priority list of projects, said John Signorello, associate vice president for facilities and operations.

But once it was announced that state-issued bond money could become available to help New Jersey’s private colleges and universities rebuild, the planning process at Seton Hall took on added importance as officials scrambled to take full advantage of the available opportunities.

The biggest project now on the drawing board, the rebuilding of the University Center, was originally supposed to break ground in 2014. But the approval by voters last November of the $750 million bond issue compelled Seton Hall officials to delay the project in favor of others.   

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In order to utilize the bond money, which is only available for academic classroom space on campus, the Executive Cabinet searched the master plan for student priorities, according to Signorello.

With the undergraduate population expected to remain at capacity for some time, one of the most immediate needs on campus was identified as adding functional and technologically up-to-date classrooms.  Replacing Stafford Hall, which is considered obsolete, with a new three-story building containing 12 new classrooms, jumped to the top of the priority list.

Work on Stafford is expected to begin this summer.

Though building a new university center was pushed back to 2016, it remains an important part of Seton Hall’s future.

“I think if you’re going to spend four years of your life as an undergrad, you want to be in a place that you’re comfortable and where you think you’re going to enjoy the people and the facilities,” University President A. Gabriel Esteban said.

The university master plan is a vision of the campus that lays out current and future uses, both on and off campus, according to Signorello, who has been working on campus for the past five years. 

Among the projects outlined in the master plan and about to get underway are the Stafford Hall replacement, a 500-car addition to the parking deck, and an extra floor on the top of the Aquinas residential hall. 

After all that construction, the university may need some time to recover. “We talk about how long a break we need before we start the bigger projects,” Esteban said.  “In the meantime, we’re going through with all the approval processes because it will take a while.”

The planning process begins when the Executive Cabinet finds that there is an unmet need on campus, or when a special opportunity arises, such as the availability of the bond money.

The Executive Cabinet consists of Esteban, Provost Larry Robinson, and several of the vice presidents on campus, including Tracy H. Gottlieb, who is in charge of student services.

“It’s us being a well-respected university,” Gottlieb, an alumnus of Seton Hall, said of the planned campus improvements. “And this is part of it—planning and assessing and growing.”

When a proposal has been approved by the Executive Cabinet, several other groups then get involved to help determine the specific details of the project. These groups include the Seton Hall Board of Regents, along with the individual schools or programs within the university that would be affected by the changes. 

Once the project has been approved by the Board of Regents, a committee made up of Signorello and others is responsible for selecting an architect to begin the process of making the plan a reality. 

Several architectural firms are asked to submit proposals and Seton Hall officials sometimes visit projects the architects have designed on other campuses before making a selection.

In the meantime, Signorello’s office is in charge of obtaining approvals for the plans from the South Orange Planning Board or the local zoning authorities. 

Once the planning, funding, and permits have all been completed or obtained, the actual construction can be “as quick as two years or as long as five-plus, depending on the scale of the project,” Signorello said.

Due to the long time-frame of the projects, Esteban is making a plea directly to the Seton Hall community.

One thing I ask of people is patience,” he said.  “It’s just like you’re renovating your own house—it can be a little difficult at times, but you have to think of the future.”

Once the Stafford, Aquinas and parking deck projects are completed, the focus is expected to turn to the University Center. But just as with this preliminary round of construction, those plans are always subject to change.

This series was reported and written by the Advanced Reporting class at Seton Hall University. This article was written by Joseph S. Sorensen, a May 2013 graduate.