GW still far from fundraising goal for most expensive building

The University has raised about $6.5 million out of the $100 million needed for construction of the Science and Engineering Hall, putting more pressure on the influx of fundraising GW will need over the next decade.

A half-million dollars has been raised for construction costs since the last funding estimate in April, the development office told the Faculty Senate’s fiscal planning and budgeting committee Friday. Money raised for the project has reached almost $25 million – a total that also counts initiatives like scholarships and academic programs that the University ties to the building.

While the University will pay its construction costs over the next decade and also lean on other sources of revenue, the fundraising pace helps

Media Credit: Nick Rice | Graphics Assistant

illuminate whether enthusiasm from donors matches the University’s big ambitions for the building.

Associate Vice President for Development William Bartolini said potential donors still “want to study the project” before deciding to give money to the building, and said that more gifts will pour in as the building nears completion.

“As we get closer to the opening, there is a natural crescendo as donors see the project becoming a reality and a natural deadline that requires their commitments,” Bartolini said. “The building doesn’t open until spring 2015, so we will continue to engage donors and increase momentum in the project.”

But the building’s plans have been mostly finalized for its January 2015 opening. Researchers learned last spring of their placement in the building’s high-tech lab space and Ballinger Architects, a Philadelphia-based firm, will release final floor plans this month.

Donald Parsons, an economics professor, has been a staunch critic of the University’s financial plans for the building as a member of the Faculty Senate committee. He said the “door is closing on getting big money” because the University has already committed to building the hall.

“The SEH is basically an albatross around the neck of GW, and the University has to lead with that, because the president has promised publicly he’s going to raise $100 million,” he said. “They have a lot of pressure on them to do it.”

The University aims to bring in about $10 million for the building by the end of fiscal year 2015, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said last spring.

Philanthropy for the building also will likely pick up when the University launches a comprehensive capital campaign, which has been years in the works but does not have a confirmed start date. The Science and Engineering Hall will be a signature point of that campaign, Barolini said.

The University’s fundraising arm also has the task of raising about $300 million for initiatives tied to the strategic plan, like new faculty positions and research centers, in the next decade.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said his office is “pleased with the growing momentum” on SEH fundraising, adding that his office is engaging in conversations with “numerous individuals and organizations” regarding major gifts to the project.

“Whether donors give to programs or bricks and mortar, it demonstrates commitment to the vision of this extraordinary facility and will lead to greater gifts as we move forward,” Morsberger said.

Morsberger said while a tepid economy can slow donor’s decisions to donate, especially in an election year, “the GW community has given record amounts in the past couple of years so our trajectory is clearly going up.”

Some donors have already put their own stamp on the building. A greenhouse will be added to the SEH after a multimillion-dollar gift came last year from the estate of alumnus Bill Harlan, who died in 2006.

The University will also pay for the building with $180 million of lease payments from The Avenue through 2014 and $55 million in recoveries of the overhead costs of research through 2022.

The engineering hall has been touted as transformative for the University’s aggressive push toward technical fields and innovation. It’s helped attract a stronger class of science and engineering faculty and students to the University by promising high-tech nano-imaging suites and wet labs that replace aging facilities.

The University hopes that promise also lures a company or individual to give up to $50 million for the naming rights of the building. David Dolling, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said in October that the University is courting several people and companies for the larger gifts.

“That is complicated, because there are relatively few individuals and corporations or foundations or whatever that have the resources to do that,” Dolling said.

Several other buildings around the University are still awaiting big gifts that will brand a new name on the building, like South Hall, West Hall and 1957 E Street, as well as multiple academic halls.

Concern about the University high-rolling on the project may be valid, said Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

“GW is relatively new to sophisticated fundraising. This is an ambitious goal, so this may take awhile to play out,” she said.

GW, a tuition-dependent university, only recently expanded fundraising efforts after decades to pay for a bevvy of capital projects and ramp up of financial aid. Its number of alumni who studied law or social sciences also dwarfs the number of alumni who would potentially give to science or engineering.

Fundraising for higher education is expected to grow by 5.9 percent this fiscal year, according to a June report by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, but it is still tailing pre-recession levels.

But GW’s struggles to increase donations for the building over the last eight months may also be due to big donors holding onto their checkbooks as Congress anticipates a tax code overhaul and may increase taxes on the wealthy to avoid the fiscal cliff.

“For the most part, fundraisers say they’re challenged to get people to make any decisions right now at all,” Palmer said. “Even talking about this stuff is tough right now.”

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