Country Club Apartments to hit the market

The Country Club Apartments, off-campus housing units for College residents, is slated to be sold in the near future, according to Matt Golden, director of Community and Public Relations.

In the Feb. 28 “Eye on SGA” article of The Signal, Dan Scapardine, Vice President of Legal and Governmental Affairs, said the use of the Country Club Apartments, a Trenton State College Corporation (TSCC)-owned property typically used to house students, was being re-evaluated. Scapardine said the College no longer considered the former residence hall to be conducive to its community living standards.

TSCC, Golden said in an e-mail interview, “provide(s) off-campus real estate management, acquisition and development services in support of the academic, faculty and student life goals of (the College).” Golden also said in an e-mail interview that TSCC functions as a corporate entity separate from the College.

Scapardine said the College was considering the conversion of the apartments to a tenant/landlord-based system, similar to that of other TSCC-owned properties. If this was not deemed feasible by the corporation, the apartments were to be sold.

On Nov. 26, Golden told The Signal via e-mail that the Country Club Apartments “are currently vacant and being shown by our broker to prospective buyers.”

TSCC owns over 40 properties in addition to the Country Club Apartments. As a corporation separate from the College, Golden said TSCC can legally purchase and manage off-campus properties.

“The Corporation’s status under the Public College Auxiliary Organization Act allows it certain flexibility and freedom in conducting auxiliary business related to and in support of the College,” he said. Golden added that TSCC is controlled by a board of directors. This board consists of a college trustee, faculty, staff, students and local residents.

Golden said TSCC operates on an approximate annual budget of $1,132,000. “The Corporation is not funded through tuition or student fees,” Golden said. “It is financed through rents charged to tenants and management fees charged for its services.”

TSCC uses this budget, combined with “a confidential strategic property acquisition plan,” to purchase properties. Golden said, “The acquisition plan looks at key factors, like location, proximity to the College, condition and demand in determining which properties should be purchased.”

Beneficiaries from the TSCC program primarily consist of full-time College faculty or staff members. According to the TSCC Web site, the Corporation offers housing to faculty and staff in Hopewell and Ewing townships. TSCC also offers apartments to faculty and staff on Campus Court, Pennington Road and Upper Ferry Road.

The beginnings of TSCC, founded in 1989 under the former Trenton State College, were rocky. On Sept. 22, 1991, The New York Times reported on an investigation begun by the now defunct State Department of Higher Education. “At issue is whether the program, begun in 1989, is legal and whether the involvement of some College administrators is ethical,” The Times said.

The Times also reported that an initial sum of $7 million was utilized to purchase 41 houses, in addition to the Ewing Township municipal building, was derived from both tuition and “academic program money.” The municipal building was to be used “as a catering and banquet center or as a campus police station.” This information was provided to The Times by the former College vice president for Finance and Administration, Peter L. Mills.

The investigation that ensued was not criminal. The Times reported that the College’s faculty union had previously appealed to former Attorney General Robert J. Del Tufo to investigate the program. Del Tufo declined, and the investigation was then spearheaded by the State Department of Higher Education.

The Times reported that union opposition stemmed from the College’s purchase of the properties without proper consultation of the union. “State union leaders, who represent all nine campuses in the New Jersey state college system, denounced the program as extravagant at a time when academic programs systemwide were being cut and tuition was being raised,” The Times said.

College President R. Barbara Gitenstein said via e-mail that no persons involved in the State Department of Higher Education’s inquiry currently work for the College in an administrative capacity. Gitenstein also noted that the inquiry took place “some eight years before I became president, so my comments have no personal knowledge as background.”

“From what I have heard, it was a conflict about terms and conditions of employment for the union and whether vice presidents could live in corporation housing rent free,” Gitenstein said. “It is not unusual for a college or university to establish an auxiliary enterprise to manage property near its campus proper that supports the mission but is not central to the academic operations.”

Further information regarding the history of the State Department of Higher Education’s inquiry was not made available to The Signal as of press time.