Economy delays fundraising for Science and Engineering Complex

The University has delayed launching a formal fundraising campaign for the proposed $300 million Science and Engineering Complex due to the ailing economy, a senior administrator said this week.

Vice President for Advancement Laurel Price Jones said the University is accepting donations for the complex, but her office will not launch a formal campaign until a survey can be completed to help GW determine a realistic goal for donations.

“Before you launch a campaign for a project as big as this one, you set a fundraising goal,” Price Jones said. “In order to do that, you do a feasibility study. That is a study that involves hundreds of people and asks about the importance of the project.”

Price Jones said the feasibility study asks about a particular project’s relative importance in the prospective donor’s life to gauge the potential level of donations.

“This is not the best time to be asking those questions, so until we see some turnaround in the economy, we won’t be setting a goal,” Price Jones said.

Since the outlook on the economy has begun to improve, Price Jones said that the study could begin within a couple of months. When asked if the stalled campaign could affect the project’s construction timeline, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said he did not expect it to.

“[Price Jones] and [Executive Vice President] Don Lehman and myself are putting together an overall timeline to sequence the project,” Katz said. “We were looking at the end dates before. We haven’t put together what’s going to happen first.”

Katz said that the earliest date to begin construction is still the first half of 2011.

The Science and Engineering Complex, slated to be built where the University Parking Garage currently stands, is expected to cost at least $300 million. University officials, including Katz and University President Steven Knapp, said they will not use funds from the operating revenue – which includes tuition and student fees – but will instead rely on fundraising, Square 54 revenue and indirect research grants.

In February, the Board of Trustees allocated $10 million to the project for initial planning purposes including creating construction plans and architectural designs.

Engineering professor Hermann Helgert, chair of the Faculty Senate’s committee on the Science and Engineering Complex, said he thought the fundraising campaign was being approached prudently.

“The next six months are going to be spent building a strategy to promote the building to potential donors. There is currently no plan that says we are going to stall the construction,” Helgert said. “I think we are going forward unless all hell breaks loose in the economy.”

Helgert added, “Fundraising isn’t something you do for a month. It is a continuous effort and some of it will go to fund construction and the rest will fund its operation.”

Another member of the committee, economics professor Donald Parsons, questioned how the fundraising plan would affect the project’s construction.

“The president has promised that SEC funding will not come out of operating revenue . but rather out of gifts and other resources, so it is a little hard to see how the administration could plunge ahead blindly before the gift question is resolved satisfactorily – but one never knows,” Parsons wrote in an e-mail.

Parsons, who has been outspoken in his opposition to the complex, has said renovating existing science and engineering facilities would be a better use of University resources.

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