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Officials launched an ambitious capital campaign Saturday on the Salem campus.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Expect Roanoke College to look different in the coming years.
Look for a massive new athletic center on the north end of campus - twice the size of any building now on campus.
And if President Michael Maxey has his way, look for "as many '92 Chevys in the parking lot as 2012 BMWs" - a visual manifestation of the more socioeconomically diverse student body Maxey wants to bring to campus via scholarships and other aid programs.
But all this will depend on the success of an ambitious new capital campaign. Kicked off Saturday night at the college's Alumni Weekend festivities, the "Roanoke Rising" campaign seeks to raise $200 million - more than the total raised by the college's past two fundraising efforts combined.
"I'm confident we can exceed that," Maxey said. "It's how far we'll beat it."
The campaign is in fact emerging from its quiet phase more than halfway to its goal, but it has taken far longer to get to the public phase than anticipated. It was bolstered with the announcement Saturday night of a $25 million gift from the Mulheren family, who are longtime and generous givers to the college.
Maxey became Roanoke's president in 2007 and was "chomping at the bit" to start a fundraising effort, but the stumbling economy was a constant obstacle.
"I got a lot of, 'This is just not a good time, Mike,' " he said.
That the money has begun to flow in more readily of late is a sign and a result of an economic thaw, Maxey said.
While the campaign itself struggled for momentum, its goal is to continue momentum the college itself has enjoyed over the past 20 years.
Roanoke debuted in the U.S. News & World Report rankings in 1989 as an up-and-coming liberal arts school in the Southeast region. Within 10 years, it had risen to the national list of liberal arts colleges, albeit in the middle of the pack. Ten years after that, Roanoke was No. 7 on the national list of up-and-coming liberal arts colleges, and last year rose to number four.
The college has been on a building boom for several years, but mainly adding residence halls.
The campaign will continue that boom, but take it in a different direction.
The planned athletic facility, to be called the Cregger Center after its major donor, Roanoke trustees chairman Morris Cregger, would become the college's competition venue for basketball and volleyball, will feature the Roanoke Valley's only competition-level indoor track facility, and will offer high-tech academic spaces, too.
"The Bast Center is OK," Cregger said, referring to the school's main gym, "but the school has kind of outgrown that."
The Cregger Center, with an estimated cost of $35 million to $40 million according to Cregger, will go up on a site currently occupied by the aging Bowman Hall dormitory and a large parking lot along High Street.
Cregger said he expects it to be a campus centerpiece. He believes campus infrastructure - from clean, new dorms to a premier athletic facility - are key to recruiting and retaining students.
Cregger, 73 and president of a South Carolina-based plumbing supply company, places high value on athletics, too. A four-sport letterman when he was a student at Roanoke in the early 1960s, he still holds the second-highest season basketball scoring average in Roanoke College history.
Cregger and Maxey expect the indoor track to get used by area high schools, too, which currently must travel to Lynchburg or Blacksburg to compete indoors.
The facility also will be large enough to host major speakers and, in cases of foul weather, graduation ceremonies.
It also will be home to the school's Health and Human Performance Department and a fitness center.
The school hopes to break ground within a year or two, as soon as $26 million is raised for the project. Currently, there is $16 million set aside.
The campaign also will fund the renovation and connection of the school's two aging science buildings along Market Street. An auditorium that sits between them will be demolished and replaced by a structure that will make one enormous science building.
That's a five-year project that probably won't start until 2017, Maxey said.
With those projects done, Maxey and Cregger believe the college will be positioned to leave off building projects for another 15 to 20 years.
While the construction will be the most obvious artifacts of the campaign to both the college and surrounding communities, they aren't Maxey's highest priority for the campaign funds.
That place is held by a drive to raise $45 million to endow scholarships to make the college accessible to more students and continue a pattern of making the student body more socioeconomically diverse.
"This whole image that we're the elite place is gone," Maxey said.
Long a favorite stop of students from Northeastern prep schools, today one in five Roanoke students receives a federal Pell Grant, an indicator they're the most needy in terms of tuition help.
This year, tuition and fees for a resident student at Roanoke total nearly $46,000. But cost is a "horrible way to make a decision" on what college to attend.
"These kinds of kids, if we don't help them, they're not coming," Maxey said. Yet it's vitally important that the student body reflect the outside world - racially, ethnically and socioeconomically.
The money raised will also fund those same needier students' participation in study abroad, research, internships and other "experiential learning."
Other campaign priorities include $35 million for academic programs, the same amount for additional college aid and operating costs, and $15 million to create a president's "opportunity fund."
The idea, Maxey said, is "you can respond to great ideas ... that aren't on the table right now."
Several years ago, a benefactor donated $25,000 for the same purpose. So, when a student had an idea for loaner bicycle program on campus, Maxey said, he had a thousand dollars to fund what he saw as a good idea. With $15 million, the ideas can be that much grander.
The campaign is Maxey's first as president, but he's no stranger to fundraising. He's the college's former director of development.
"He's influenced a lot of us to max out what we could give to the school," Cregger said.
Maxey said with the economy rebounding somewhat, the college is now in a position to capture the good feelings among alumni and other potential donors, which come from the college's steady climb.
"You can tell that something has coalesced in terms of how people feel about the college," Maxey said.
"You either have momentum or you don't," he said. "And we've got it."
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