PRINCETON — The saga of Westminster Choir College and Rider took another turn as the group leading the effort to keep the school open announced plans to spin the school off and make it independent.

(Dan Alexander, Townsquare Media NJ)

The Coalition to Save Westminster Choir College in Princeton said they have hired Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran to help separate the school from Rider and return it to the independent status it had before Rider bought the school in 1991.

“We are grateful for Rider University’s support of Westminster Choir College since the 1991 merger," Constance Fee, president of the Coalition, said in a statement. "And while we appreciate Rider’s commitment to Westminster, the Choir College has returned to financial stability and should not be broken up or sold, but must be retained as an independent, intact academic institution."

Cash-strapped Rider put the 97-year-old institution up for sale this spring after initially exploring the option of moving the school from its Princeton location to Rider's main campus in Lawrence. The Coalition says the Rider campus cannot properly accommodate the rehearsal, educational and performance needs of the school.

The university hired Price Waterhouse Cooper to help find “a partner … that will purchase the campus and keep the programs in Princeton. That’s our first preference.” A second option would be to find an institution willing to take the programs and move them to another location but sell the campus, according to university President Gregory Dell’Omo.

“We feel very confident that we will be able to find a very suitable partner as we go through this process,” Dell’Omo said.

Afran said in a statement it would be difficult for Rider to satisfy and prove in court the limited conditions in the merger agreement under which Rider can cease operating Westminster’s Princeton campus.

“The 1991 agreement was intended to preserve the historic Princeton campus and maintain Westminster’s ‘separate identity.' The merger agreement did not give Rider the right to benefit financially from the sale of the campus.”

The Coalition said it met with Dell’Omo last Friday and had a "frank and productive discussion" about their proposal.

Rider spokeswoman Kristine Brown said in a statement, "We appreciate the interest of the Coalition and others in the future of Westminster, while at the same time the process to identify other interested parties to acquire Westminster continues. Our goal remains the same: to find an institution willing to acquire Westminster and maintain its important legacy."

She said the Dell'Omo asked for a written proposal following the Friday meeting, but it had not been received.

Brown said Rider's process to sell Rider remains confidential and would not say if any offers have been received. "As soon as we are able to discuss that publicly, we will do so."

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