With a heave of chrome shovels, the leadership of Rowan University and local politicians ceremonially broke ground Friday for a new home for the Rohrer College of Business.
"What a day!" exclaimed Rowan's president, Ali Houshmand, who extolled the $63.2 million project as evidence of New Jersey's commitment to expanding educational opportunities for its high school graduates, many of whom are forced to look outside the state for higher education.
When completed in spring of 2017, the four-story, 96,500-square-foot building will have capacity to serve 2,000 students, double the current business school enrollment at the university.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), and Linda Rohrer, chair of the university's board of trustees, were among the dignitaries taking part in the ceremony.
Houshmand told the crowd assembled in Parking Lot A - where the brick, L-shaped building is to rise - that it will incorporate some of the best in contemporary design for business schools.
Designed by KSS Architects of Princeton in cooperation with Goody Clancy Architects of Boston, its open common spaces are designed to encourage collaboration among students and business leaders. It will also include a "hatchery," Houshmand said, where students can develop their own entrepreneurial ideas.
"A spectacular facility by any measure," said Houshmand, who predicted it "will allow us to attract the best students and professors to Rowan University."
The school is named for William G. Rohrer, a South Jersey banker and Camden auto dealer who donated generously to the university during his lifetime. The William G. Rohrer Charitable Foundation, of which Linda Rohrer is a trustee, gave $10 million toward construction of the new business school building.
The business school is currently housed in a structure built in 1923, the oldest building on campus.
"This is a very, very special day," she told the crowd, adding she had thought the university leadership was "crazy" when it first approached the foundation about funding a business school a decade ago.
But education and serving the needs of South Jersey were causes dear to her father, she said, "and he gave many people business loans." Donating to a college in his name, she decided, "was a really easy decision."
Nearly $46 million of the construction costs will be funded through the Building our Future Bond Act that state voters approved in 2012.
Rowan, a state research university, also received $40.4 million toward a $71 million, 90,500-square-foot addition to its College of Engineering.
Sweeney noted that around 30,000 high school graduates leave New Jersey each year for colleges and universities in other states. He praised Houshmand as a "big thinker" who is seeking to reverse that trend.
Norcross echoed those sentiments, noting that many young people who go out of state for college "stay away," and praised efforts to reverse what he called a "brain drain," which, he said, has been particularly acute in South Jersey.