As the driving rain fell and the wind howled Tuesday, shaking the tent next to the steel frame of Rutgers University-Camden's new Nursing and Science Building, it was clear Mother Nature was uninterested in the lofty words from government and school officials.

Midway through remarks by U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, a gust roared, and for a moment it seemed as though the tent might fly off its stakes.

Looking skyward, the Camden County Democrat said, "I'm hurrying, I'm hurrying..."

The planned ceremonial topping-off of the four-story steel structure was postponed due to the high winds, but Rutgers-Camden Chancellor Phoebe Haddon exhorted the crowd huddled tightly under the tent to instead "raise a doughnut and have a warm drink and toast" the construction milestone, part of a plan to make the area between the Rutgers district and Cooper University Hospital a new "eds and meds" corridor in the city.

Despite the gloom outside, the mood under the tent at 5th and Federal streets across from Camden City Hall was optimistic, as those gathered looked forward to an influx of new industry in the city and new students and facilities for Rutgers.

"The rain means blessings," said state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez. "And many blessings are coming down on the city today."

The $62.5 million project is financed by Rutgers and a $46.8 million higher education state bond approved by voters in 2013. It will house the school's life sciences programs, including biology, physics and chemistry, and will feature classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices and computer labs. The building is set to open in 2017.

"This is a great opportunity for the school and the city," said Helen McAleer, a freshman nursing student from Haddon Heights and one of the many students who joined Haddon, Norcross, Cruz-Perez, Camden Mayor Dana Redd and others in signing the ceremonial steel beam.

"It's great to see more industry moving back to the city," she added, specifically citing Subaru of America's planned relocation from Cherry Hill. "Camden gets a really bad rap, but it will be great to see it get more businesses, more students at Rutgers and more people coming downtown to work."

Haddon predicted the Nursing and Science building would help the university draw "the best and brightest scientists and students," calling it "a 21st-century building that will help redefine Rutgers-Camden for years to come."

University president Robert Barchi said the building is part of a three-pronged commitment by the statewide university: to Rutgers-Camden, which he said would be "an integral part of Rutgers, the State University, in perpetuity"; to the citizens of New Jersey; and to the people of Camden, "to help rebuild this city, to attract people, business and commerce" to the new education and medicine corridor.

Ana Rodriguez, who works in the university's TRiO Student Support Services, is a lifelong Camden resident who said she's seen a lot of changes in the city in her 29 years, "good and bad." 

The good? "A lot of art and cultural activities for Camden residents," she said, noting the Nursing and Science Building was "an awesome opportunity for students."

The bad? "I'd rather not talk about the bad today," she said, a wide smile crossing her face.

Phaedra Trethan; (856) 486-2417; ptrethan@gannettnj.com

http://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/2016/02/16/rutgers-building-moves-closer-completion/80456024/