Recent donation helps ensure Cohen Science Center is on schedule

Christine Lee, News Editor

A $2.5 million donation assures that funding for the newly named Lawrence and Sally Cohen Science Center is going along as planned.

On Oct. 10, President Patrick Leahy announced the donation of the gift by alumnus Lawrence ‘57 and his wife ,Sally, one of the largest single cash gifts from an individual alumnus.

Leahy said he can’t overstate what a show of generosity the gift was to the university, especially at this time during the construction process and his recent installation as president.

“Coming at this time of this project, sort of midway through the construction, midway through the capital campaign and this early in my presidency, it’s a very significant moment in our history as a university,” Leahy said. “I cannot be more grateful to the Cohen family for their show of support for Wilkes University, it’s incredible.”

Leahy said he was delighted to be able to announce the naming of the science building after the Cohens, knowing as long as the building stands it will bear the name.

The donation brings the total raised in the Achieving Our Destiny capital campaign project to $13.5 million. Vice President of Advancement Mike Wood said the campaign was started in January and is planned to raise $20 million to pay for part of the $35 million expenses.

“Typically campaigns take five years and we’ve been in this campaign for a little more than a year and a half,” Wood said. “What we’re trying to do is get to that goal as quickly as possible.”

There are so far about 100 donors in the campaign. Wood said this is the most amount of money raised by Wilkes in this short amount of time in its history.

In addition to the Achieving Our Destiny capital campaign, $15 million bonds were issued last spring by the university to the public market to cover the rest of the costs for the Cohen science center. Vice President of Finance and General Council Loren Prescott said this process helps with getting money quickly for the building.

“The capital campaign is about receiving pledges from a variety of donors that are satisfied over a period of time, so you can either wait until all of that money comes in, or we can borrow money, anticipating that the capital campaign produce all of this cash and that’s what we’ve decided to do,” Prescott said. “We didn’t want to delay the beginning of construction because we’re anxious to complete the building and begin using it so the borrowing was an effort on our part to speed up the construction process.”

Prescott said in addition to the $15 million in bonds, the university will borrow money to allow the construction to proceed, which will then be paid back with the expected proceeds from the capital campaign. Prescott added student tuition is not being directly spent on construction.

Wood said the campaign is just beginning the alumni outreach portion. Wood said this portion will reach donors for smaller gifts.

“Not everyone can do a $2 million gift, but gifts of all sizes count,” Wood said.

Wood said as Advancement reaches out to the alumni portion of the campaign, there will be more sending of direct mail, a re-starting of the Army of Colonels advertising campaign and promoting in the “Wilkes” magazine, although Wood said fundraising is more effective when it’s done face-to-face.

“Most of the time fundraising is done best when you’re sitting and talking with people face-to-face and we try to do that whenever possible,” Wood said.

Wood said there are dozens of events around the country where Advancement is gathering alums to talk about the science building and other needs at Wilkes. They also have hundreds of individual appointments with alumni throughout the country.

Leahy said he will be dedicating the next nine months to raise the additional money needed. He said the donation from the Cohens is the kind of gift that will give the necessary cash flow to continue the construction.

He also said the plan is to have the Cohen Science Center completed and ready for occupancy sometime in August or early September of 2013. In addition to the fundraising, Leahy wants to make sure the continued construction is completed on time, on budget and in a safe manner.

Leahy said he firmly believes the building will be completed on time so it is ready for the following academic year. He also said the next tangible part of the building the campus community will see is the building enclosed with the siding and roof. He hopes that this will be completed within the next couple of months.

“My hope is that we can have a lot of that work in the coming months so that even if January and February are really tough winters, our construction crew can work on the interior of the building,” Leahy said. “The building will really take shape.”

Leahy said although he doesn’t know what building will be referred to in the future, he hopes the name Cohen Science Center will be embedded in the campus lexicon and hopes the campus community will use the full name to show appreciation of the donors.

“I’ll work hard to remember the Cohen name and embed it firmly into our campus jargon,” Leahy said. “Every time we refer to those buildings, we are in some special way sort of summoning the spirit of the people who helped make them possible and I think it’s important for our students to know that.”

Leahy said he looks forward with great enthusiasm to when the building is formally dedicated and expressed that the human component that makes a building remarkable.

“You can build state-of-the art buildings on college campuses but you have to have dedicated and talented faculty and staff to work in those buildings,” Leahy said. “That is the essence of an academic building, is the quality of the faculty and the quality of the staff that occupy the buildings. That’s what makes them remarkable, not just the physical space, that’s only one small part of it. It’s the human component of a building that makes it remarkable and I think Cohen Science Center will be a remarkable building.”