A building that holds a prominent place in the histories of both Rutgers University-Newark and the city itself will soon undergo a metamorphosis.

The former home of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark at 15 Washington Street will be converted to a combination of undergraduate and graduate housing, as well as academic, student, and residence hall administrative space. What’s more, Chancellor Nancy Cantor will become the first RU-N leader to reside in the 17-story building.

The building’s “great hall” on the first floor will be used as an academic space where Rutgers University Newark faculty and students catalyze engagement with community organizations and the public around the arts.

Rutgers officials plan to open the building in July 2015, following the Rutgers Board of Governors’ approval of the $85 million project at their December 2013 meeting. 

“The project will reactivate one of the icons of the Newark skyline and build on the momentum of rejuvenation we are seeing in so much of the city.  Since we plan to work with community partners to bring the public into signature spaces on the first floor, it also will help build new reciprocal relationships with the community,” says Senior Vice Chancellor Peter Englot. 

“But most important will be the impact of 370 students living in the neighborhood, animating the streets in new ways day and night, spurring further development in the area.  And the decision for Chancellor Cantor to reside in the building powerfully reinforces all of these messages, signaling the University’s commitment to help the downtown thrive.”

The 326-foot-tall building will add a total of 211,000 square feet of housing space  in one- to four-bedroom units, with common space for students and academic use. The remaining 52,000 square feet will be used for residence life staff, the chancellor’s living quarters and other campus purposes.

The 15 Washington Street building was built in 1930 as the headquarters of the American Insurance Company.  It was designed in neo-classical style by the firm of John H. & Wilson C. Ely, which also designed the Newark City Hall and the National Newark Building.  Like many insurance company facilities of the period, the building, especially its great hall, was designed to impress visitors and employees alike as a symbol of financial security and stability. The marble-lined great hall, also called the counting room -- where customers used to pay their premiums -- features 20-foot ceilings and 15-foot-tall windows.

After American Insurance was acquired by the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company in 1963, the building became known as the Fireman’s Fund Building. Then, in 1977, the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company relocated its corporate headquarters. This led to the building’s second life: the insurer donated it to Rutgers University and it became the home of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark, along with the School of Criminal Justice and the Office of the Provost (now called the Office of the Chancellor). The building retained that role until 1999, when the new Rutgers Center for Law and Justice was opened at 123 Washington Street, and the two schools and administrative offices relocated there.

The project is being developed through a public-private partnership between Rutgers and the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).  Newman Architects, New Haven, Connecticut, is designing the renovations. The contractor is AID Construction.  The $85 million cost is being financed through $10.75 million in funds from the New Jersey Higher Education Facilities Trust Fund, $13 million in tax credits through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program, $11 million in bonds issued specifically for the project, and a $50.25 million mortgage secured by DEVCO.