Seton Hall announced plans for a major renovation of the University Center in an email to students on Tuesday. The plans—which were announced amid a pandemic during which the University raised tuition and laid off staff in the spring—have some students questioning the timing of the project.
Earlier this year, the University announced a series of cost-saving measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including laying off 10% of the University’s staff, increasing tuition and placing all capital projects on hold.
The new renovation will not be funded by tuition, according to University spokesperson Michael Ricciardelli.
“The University Center renovations will be paid for through the bond proceeds and through private donations, a number of which have already been secured,” Ricciardelli said.
The project will be funded by private philanthropy as well as bonds from the New Jersey Educational Facilities Authority, which will generate nearly $109 million in capital for the University. The bonds will also fund the reconstruction of Turrell Manor.
The bond funding must go towards these capital projects, according to Ricciardelli.
Despite this, some students questioned the University’s priorities.
“Seton Hall should not be worried about improving the [University Center] when there are students leaving the school because they can’t afford classes,” senior diplomacy major Vanessa Vuji said.
Junior diplomacy major Chantel Hammond called the announcement a “slap in the face” to students paying to attend Seton Hall.
“To me, this signifies that the school does not prioritize making the school affordable,” Hammond said. “Rather it is showcasing its desire to attract higher paying students instead of affording opportunity to lower-income students.”
The announcement detailed that the renovation for the University Center will make the building more accessible for students with disabilities.
“All public entrances and exits [of the University Center] will be ADA compliant and accessible with two new elevators added to increase accessibility throughout the entirety of the University Center,” Ricciardelli said. “All renovated components of the building will be designed in accordance with state law for renovations of this magnitude.”
Ricciardelli said this will include the renovation of the Theatre-in-the-Round, which is attached to the University Center. The stage of the theatre is currently not wheelchair accessible, according to Associate Professor of Theatre Peter Reader.
“The theater will have a lift to provide access to the stage and lower level seating area,” Ricciardelli said. “There will also be ADA compliant seating zones at the top of the seating area within the theater as well.”
However, some students have questioned why other buildings like Mooney Hall, which holds the mailroom, freshman advising offices, and Counseling and Psychological Services, were not prioritized for renovation.
“Mooney Hall is still not handicap accessible to those students in need and many of the dorm conditions are inadequate,” senior biology major Ricardo Munoz said.
Sophomore public relations major Jiaqi Liu said she believes more important renovations are needed elsewhere on campus.
“The University Center should not be our top priority right now,” Liu said. “Seton Hall’s purpose of remodeling the building seems [to be] to appeal to their donors or to make it look pretty without an actual practical end.”
Ricciardelli called the renovation of the Center an “investment in our students.”
“Among non-academic buildings, the University Center has the biggest impact on most students’ lives and, aptly named, stands at the center of University life,” he said. “Our current Center is 59 years old and long overdue for a substantial update. This renovation will create a vibrant hub of campus life that will greatly enhance the amenities provided and will better serve the needs of a 21st century student body.”
The University announcement said the construction will take about 18 months and will begin in late spring. Major components of the project are set to take place over the summer to lessen the impact during the fall and spring semesters.
Daniel O’Connor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @itsDanOConnor.