SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Some basic decisions about the details and the timing of the big rebuilding campaign getting underway at Seton Hall University have been shaped by the passage last November of the $750 million “Building Our Future” bond act, the proceeds of which will provide construction funding to public and private colleges and universities in the state, including Seton Hall.
“With the bond question on the ballot in November, we and our higher education colleagues and many other supporters conducted a comprehensive campaign asking the voters of New Jersey to approve the state issuing bonds for higher ed improvements,” said Matthew Borowick, associate vice president of alumni and government relations at Seton Hall. “It passed with over 60 percent of the vote – an amazing statement just days after Sandy’s destruction.”
- REBUILDING SHU: Part 2 of 11. Seton Hall University embarks on the biggest campus renovation in a generation, hoping to make life better for students without making life worse for residents of South Orange. Read Part 1.
Seton Hall is one of 46 institutions of higher education in New Jersey that have won preliminary approval for a range of construction projects to be funded with proceeds from the bond act and four other state higher education funding programs. If the state Legislature approves the expenditures, the colleges and universities will receive a total of $1.3 billion in aid that Gov. Chris Christie has said will “open a new era of opportunity.”
Seton Hall is slated to receive $11,713,532 in state aid, university officials said. That is more than any other private institution of higher education in the state.
Seton Hall won approval for three separate projects.
It is slated to get $6.3 million from the bond issue along with $1.2 million from the Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund for the construction of a new Stafford Hall. The university will have to put in about $4 million of its own money to complete the $12 million project. The state aid is in the form of grants that do not have to be repaid.
Another $2.18 million from the Higher Education Capital Improvement Fund will be used for the rehabilitation of the Nursing School building (HVAC system), and for lighting at the Richie Regan Recreation Center.
- Just under $2 million from two separate higher education funds will be used to upgrade the university’s technology systems. This will include projects to increase bandwidth on the information network, replace fiber optic cables and create redundant capabilities that will make the system more reliable.
Along with the applications, Seton Hall was required to provide an overall campus master plan, a justification for the new classroom space, and an explanation of how the projects support state education initiatives. Importantly, the university also had to show that the projects were “shovel ready” and could begin by July 1, 2013.
“The 'Building Our Future' bond act funding was specific for non-revenue producing projects—not housing, not parking—so it was really focused on classrooms,” said Stephen Graham, chief financial officer at Seton Hall University since 2012.
When the bond act was put on the ballot, university officials took another look at the overall master plan for campus rebuilding and decided that it made financial sense to delay the start of construction on a new university center, which was to have gotten underway in 2014 and therefore could not be considered shovel-ready.
The university pushed back the start of the university center project from 2014 to 2016 and instead moved ahead with plans for replacing Stafford Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus. Stafford, which is located behind President’s Hall, was severely damaged by fires at the turn of the last century and was never fully rebuilt. It will be demolished and a three-story building containing 12 new classrooms will take its place.
“Stafford Hall was an under-utilized space and it’s going to allow us to add classroom space and expand our capacity to teach students,” Graham said. “And the goal of these funds and the “Building our Future” act is really to give more access to New Jersey students for higher education.”
Once the applications are accepted, the University plans to move forward as soon as possible. The Stafford Hall construction is planned to begin this summer and the building could be ready for use in fall 2014.
A controversy over the higher education funding arose when The Star-Ledger revealed that some religiously affiliated institutions had received bond money and were using it for buildings restricted to religious training. Although Seton Hall has a seminary on campus, the bond money it received from the state is being used for academic buildings and facilities that are open to all students, regardless of their religious background.
Seton Hall’s grants were not called into question, although those made to the Princeton Theological Seminary and the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva for Talmudic studies in Lakewood have been challenged.
This series was reported and written by the Advanced Reporting class at Seton Hall University. This article was written by Natalie Negrotti, a May 2013 graduate.