Gill Chapel renovations will create new performing and rehearsal space at Rider

Plans also include construction of 13 new practice rooms for students
Adam Grybowski

A renovation plan for Rider University’s Gill Memorial Chapel that will create a new performing and rehearsal space for students was approved this month. The project will also create 13 new large and small practice rooms, an expanded lobby, and worship spaces.

Construction on Gill Chapel is expected to begin in February 2020 and be completed in time to accommodate Westminster Choir College students who are moving to the Lawrenceville campus beginning in September 2020 as part of Rider’s plan to integrate its two campuses.

The plans for Gill Chapel were developed through the working group charged with ensuring that the appropriate facilities will continue to meet the needs of Westminster Choir College's programs. The plan is also designed to meet the continuing performance and rehearsal needs of the School of Fine and Performing Arts.

“The progress of the Facilities Working Group is playing a meaningful role in ensuring that the mission of Westminster Choir College will continue in its new location, with students learning in an environment that supports their personal and musical growth and adheres to the highest standards of choral music,” says Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs DonnaJean Fredeen.

The renovations are designed to create a flexible space in the main chapel area that will be able to accommodate full Westminster Symphonic Choir rehearsals and performances by smaller ensembles, as well as some performances and rehearsals by musical theatre, theatre and dance students. The chapel has the capacity to seat about 300 people.

“The flexibility that will result from these plans for the main chapel area will serve many of the College’s programs,” says Westminster College of the Arts Dean Marshall Onofrio.

Rider is working with professional architects, engineers and several consultants on the Gill Chapel project and other facilities related to the integration of its two campuses in an effort to ensure Rider will meet high standards.

Acentech, the same acoustic consultants who worked on Hillman Performance Hall in the Cullen Center on the Princeton campus, is assisting Rider on the Gill Chapel renovation.

“It’s been a pleasure working with Acentech again,” says Director of Choral Activities Joe Miller. “We had such a great experience working with them on Hillman Hall. I’m certain that they’ll do a good job with the Gill Chapel project.”

The facilities team is also working with Wenger Corporation on the construction of the practice rooms. “Wenger has a rich history of working with Rider and others in music and theatre education and providing valuable service to performing arts venues,” Fredeen says.

Patrick J. Murphy, the founder of Patrick J. Murphy & Associates, one of the largest full-service pipe organ builders in the Northeast, is assisting the University in evaluating options to meet the needs of organ students on the Lawrenceville campus. Plans will include the installation of a new or existing organ in Gill Chapel and creating a faculty organ teaching studio and organ practice spaces. Murphy is a member of the Organ Historical Society, The American Institute of Organbuilders and the American Guild of Organists.

Gill Chapel will continue to be maintained as a house of worship and play an important role in Rider's commitment to spirituality and faith life. In addition to continuing to be a site for religious services, the Gill Chapel renovations will include enhancements including an interfaith prayer space and an interfaith meeting room.

Gill Chapel’s 13 new practice rooms will add to the 14 existing practice rooms on the Lawrenceville campus. Including an additional six new practice rooms that are being proposed in Kroner Hall, Rider projects a total of 33 practice rooms will be available in fall 2020.

“Our plans are meant to ensure that all Westminster College of the Arts students have the facilities, including practice rooms, that will meet or exceed their expectations for a high-quality education,” Fredeen says. Following best practices supported by the National Association of Schools of Music, the Facilities Working Group is planning to have one practice room per every 10 students.

“Based on current enrollments, we are confident we will meet this standard,” says Fredeen, who is serving as chair of the Campus Transition Team, which was established to plan, lead and organize the essential facets of the campus integration.

To accommodate enrollment growth, Rider plans to create an additional 20 practice rooms in a proposed addition to the Fine Arts building, which is projected to break ground this summer and open by fall 2021. As part of that project, the Fine Arts building will undergo significant renovations, including new faculty offices, classrooms and labs, along with a three-story addition.

In total, 53 practice rooms are expected to be available to students by fall 2021, which exceeds the current number of practice rooms on the Princeton campus.

Rider announced in July that the Board of Trustees approved a plan to integrate Westminster Choir College into the University’s existing Lawrenceville campus. This academic year, the University is continuing to operate Westminster Choir College, the Westminster Conservatory and the Westminster Continuing Education programs in Princeton. More than 130 members of the Rider University community are currently participating in planning the successful integration of the two campuses.

Meanwhile, Westminster Choir began its 100th anniversary season this month with a performance at St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church in Massapequa, N.Y. The ensemble’s 2019-20 season includes a concert tour of the western United States; a performance of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music’s Bach Festival 2020; and a 100th Anniversary concert at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Dayton, Ohio, where the Westminster Choir was founded in 1920.