Business Leader Q&A: Pace University’s Bill McGrath

As senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Pace University, Bill McGrath was one of the major forces behind the green-minded expansion plan that Pace’s Pleasantville campus is set to begin this summer. The first phase of the two-phased project, which corresponds with the 50th anniversary of the Pleasantville campus, is slated to take three years and cost up to $150 million to complete and will result in the transfer of all functions and students from the soon-to-be-shuttered Briarcliff campus. We spoke with McGrath about why he chose education for his second career, why it’s important to go green, and what changes students can expect. 

When and why did you join Pace?
I joined Pace in 2007. I had worked at Con Edison for the prior 30 years and was seeking a second career where I could make a contribution to a cause that’s important to me. Education had a dramatic impact on my life. My generation was the first in my family to go to college. In getting an undergraduate and a graduate degree, I was able to start as a blue-collar meter reader and retire as a regional vice president. Pace is a school where a lot of our students are the first generation in their family to go to college. So it’s a place where I thought I could very much make a difference for people who are very much like myself.

What are the expansion’s key goals?
One is to combine the Briarcliff and Pleasantville campuses. We have close to 600 students who reside in Briarcliff who take the shuttle back and forth. We have roughly 3,000 bus trips back and forth per year. So we’re building enough residence hall capacity to replace everything in Briarcliff on the Pleasantville campus. Having the students split, it’s hard to have activities that appeal to everyone. College is much more about 24-hour learning experiences than it was 20 years ago. We’re also going to have a strong, beautiful system of pedestrian pathways. In terms of the athletics program, we’re going to be converting our football field to turf. Rather than being solely a football field, it’ll be multi-use. We’re putting in bleachers for over 2,000 spectators. We’re adding women’s lacrosse and field hockey. We’re also going to convert the baseball field to turf and add lighting. We have a softball team and they play over in Briarcliff, so we’re going to build a softball field.

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What about the project is going to be green?
We plan on planting 1,200 trees, and we want to provide a variety of species that are compatible with the habitat. About 60 percent of the campus is wooded, and it’ll stay that way. We’re going to be getting the majority of the envelope building components from within 500 miles of the campus, and we’ll use as much recycled materials as we can. We will have windows that will keep the use of energy low, bicycle storage for students, water conservation units, and more.

When will this all be done?
We still have other regulatory hearings, but we’re on track to get shovels in the ground by August. Then we would have all of the first phase, which is the new residence halls and the athletics fields, done by fall 2016, which would allow us to be completely out of the Briarcliff campus.

Are there any programmatic expansions in the works?
One of the things we’re really good at providing is that experiential-learning component. We’re one of the top 10 schools in the nation according to US News & World Report, and we’re going to increase that even further.

What do you see as Pace’s future?
I think that our future is very tied to our strong history. This is going to be one of the top residential suburban campuses in the region. It’s going to be increasingly known for preparing students for careers. Our athletics programs are going to be improving dramatically. And our students will improve as a result of these changes.        

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