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Feature: Brick and Mortar Gifts

  • Author:
    Robert Bao
  • Published:
    Spring 2012

A number of MSU buildings, probably more than might be commonly believed, were made possible by private gifts from alumni and friends.

New campus buildings always create a buzz, not just adding to the campus skyline but also enhancing MSU’s teaching and research missions. The importance of private gifts for such capital projects is a growing part of MSU’s formula for success.

Typically new construction is Funded by a combination of state or federal support, bond sales and private support. During John Hannah’s presidency, when multiple, large-scale residential complexes were built quickly, there was more reliance on the traditional means, public support and bonds. But private giving for bricks and mortar has always been a part of the equation, and perhaps more so than ever today.

Indeed, a campus map showing The buildings that were built either entirely from private support or with critical lead gifts would surprise many Spartans whose ties to MSU date back to the Hannah years.

When you look around the MSU campus, there are many visible symbols of philanthropy,” says Bob Groves, vice president for University Advancement. “Michigan State has a much richer tradition of philanthropy than many people are aware. When The Campaign for MSU came to a close in 2007, I think the awareness of the importance of philanthropy for keeping MSU at the forefront of teaching and research was heightened.

“Over the past several decades, the State has not provided a predictable pattern of capital support. The generous partnership of our alumni, donors and friends gives us the capacity to continue to press forward with new initiatives to keep our teaching and research programs competitive nationally and internationally at a time when innovation and smart program growth might otherwise be out of reach.”

Bill Latta, MSU assistant vice president for finance and operations, adds that private support helps MSU attain its vision for the future.

“Private support for bricks and mortar is very important because it enables us to achieve the visions that we have for the future,” says Latta. “In many cases, gifts make the difference between holding course and going after your dreams.”

The tradition of private support for buildings at MSU actually dates back to 1917, when Ransom E. Olds gave MSU $100,000 to rebuild the Engineering Building, which had Burned down in 1916. Renamed Olds Hall, it still stands today next to the Hannah Administration Building. The generous gift by the automobile pioneer essentially saved MSU’s engineering program and prevented its attempted takeover by the University of Michigan.

In 1925, the MSU Union opened thanks partly to donations by many alumni, who after a lengthy campaign spearheaded by the MSU Alumni Association pledged about $200,000. In 1923, to help defray the costs, alumni, faculty members, trustees and students—including football players—teamed up during “Excavation Week” to dig the basement of the proposed student and activities center.Eventually the state stepped in with $300,000 to allow for the building’s construction by Pond and Pond of Chicago, a renowned firm that also built the union buildings at the University of Michigan and Purdue University. Later the East wing was added, and after World War II the South wing was built, essentially completing what is now the MSU Union.

In 1928, Beaumont Tower was constructed on the site of Old College Hall, the nation’s first facility devoted to the teaching of agriculture. The tower was made possible by a gift from alumnus John W. Beaumont, Class of 1888, and his wife Alice M. Beaumont. Many campus traditions revolve around the 104-ft. Tower and its 49 bells. The structure today is one of MSU’s most iconic images, along with The Spartan statue.

In 1952, thanks in large part to alumni donations, the Alumni Memorial Chapel opened as a non-denominational place of worship. MSU students had been without a religious chapel since 1919, when Old College Hall—which had a chapel—collapsed.  e new chapel on the banks of the Red Cedar River honored all MSU students who had died while serving the country. Interestingly, the structure features stones from 31 European cathedrals that were bombed during World War II—including Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Stones taken from the White House in Washington, D.C. are also embedded in the chapel.

In 1958, Forest Akers Golf Course was built on land donated by Detroit alumnus and former Dodge executive Forest Akers, who had served as university trustee for 18 years (see MSU Moments, Winter 2012, p. 7).

These examples of private support were exceptional cases that contrast with the building boom during the John A. Hannah presidency, when massive residential hall complexes went up and the campus enrollment grew from 6,000 to more than 40,000. Most of the buildings were  nanced via bond sales, o en special arrangements between MSU and the state, which had the authority to issue bonds. It was common in the 1950s and 1960s to see new buildings with signs noting that taxpayer dollars were not expended in the construction. When Hannah le MSU in 1969, it Was joked that the cement mixers kept churning for another month in his honor.

Since then, however, the amount and extent of private support for new building on campus has risen dramatically.Take a look at a campus map showing private-support buildings in red (see page 39). Alumni who have not visited the MSU campus for a while are usually stunned by the new buildings. Additionally, philanthropic support has o en given new life to buildings and thus programs through extensive expansions and renovations.

In more recent decades, MSU completed the Clion and Dolores Wharton Center for Performing Arts in 1982—a dramatic addition to campus education and entertainment that was made possible partly by generous alumni support. In 2008, the center gained a new, glass façade and its interior space was expanded by 24,000 square feet, with another 9,000 square feet of existing space renovated. the changes in the facility and expansion of the center’s programs, particularly the creation of an education institute, were made possible by approximately $9.2 million in private gifts (see cover story, Winter 2010).

In 1993, the North Business Complex was completed. the project was the centerpiece of the MSU 2000: Access to Opportunity capital campaign, according to Ben Kilpela, researcher and writer for University Development.

Another centerpiece of that capital campaign was MSU’s Horticulture Demonstration Gardens and the 4-H Children’s Garden, which occupies a space near the Plant and Soil Sciences Building and attracts thousands of visitors a year. The horticulture garden was previously located in north campus behind the Student Services Building, and its relocation to south campus met with some initial resistance by those who did not want the location changed. These projects were helped significantly by private support.

Eustace-Cole Hall was first built in 1888 as the nation’s first stand-alone Horticultural Laboratory. A $1.5 million gift in 1998 by Jeffrey and Kathryn Cole made possible the building’s renovation as the home of MSU’s Honors College in the heart of the so-called “Lab Row.”

The McPhail Equine Performance Center, a major Advancement in veterinary medicine, opened in 2000. The center was made possible entirely through private support.Much progress has been made in research related to the performance of equine athletes, as the center boasts stateof- the-art technology such as a motion analysis system, AMTI force plate, Noraxon EMG system, Pliance saddle pressure pad and other custom equipment.

Some 40 years in the making, MSU’s Biomedical and Physical Sciences Facility opened in 2001 after receiving a major amount in private support. It is MSU’s largest academic building, connecting both the Chemistry and Biochemistry buildings, and represents a major advancement in the quality and “connectivity” of science facilities,Including research and teaching laboratories. The building now houses Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, Physics, and Physiology, as well as a remote observation room for the SOAR telescope in Chile.

The James B. Henry Center for Executive Development opened in 2001 thanks to more than $11 million in private support. In addition to hosting business meetings and retreats, the 96,000 square-foot building houses the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management’s Executive Development Programs and provides a learning environment for several Broad College master’s degree programs, including the Weekend MBA and the MS Supply Chain Management.

In 2003, the International Center completed its 10,000 square-foot expansion thanks to $3.6 million in private support. An endowment to MSU by Delia Koo made possible the third-floor addition, providing additional classroom and office space for MSU international programs.The center’s academic wing has been named the Delia Koo International Academic Center.

In 2006, Lyman Briggs College in Holmes Hall was renovated thanks to more than $2.2 million in private support—adding new teaching labs for biology, chemistry and physics.

In recent years there has been significant private support for facilities in athletics—the Clara Bell Smith Student-Athlete Academic Center (1998), the Alfred Berkowitz Basketball Complex (2001), the Skandalaris Football Center (2008), the Demmer Family Hall of History (2008) in the Skandalaris Center, the DeMartin Soccer Complex (2008), the McLane Baseball Stadium (2009) and the Secchia Stadium for so ball (2011). Construction of the Pentecost Plaza (2012) at the entrance of Old College Field is set to begin this spring.

In the last couple of years, major gifts made possible some dramatic new and transformative buildings. In 2010 the College of Human Medicine’s Secchia Center opened in Grand Rapids, thanks to approximately $50 million in private support (see cover story, Fall 2010).  the new headquarters for MSU’s College of Human Medicine boasts state-of-the-art laboratories, classrooms and learning spaces.MSU and partners look forward to breakthroughs in future collaborative research.

The John and Marnie Demmer Shooting Sports Education and Training Center was funded almost entirely by private support, led by a $1.5 million gift from the Demmer family. the $3.8 million center opened to the public in 2009 as a world-class training and education facility boasting the latest in shooting range technology.

Nearing completion is the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, due to open in the fall of 2012.  is dramatic building, designed by world renowned architect Zaha Hadid, was made possible by more than $35 million in private support— Including the largest private gift in the university’s history. MSU officials expect the new structure to have a transformative impact on the cultural life and outreach of the university and greater Lansing community.

The Bott Building for Nursing Education and Research, made possible by a $7 million commitment from the Timothy and Bernadette Marquez Foundation, a $7.45 million grant from the National Institutes of Health-Center for Research Resources, and the generosity of more than 1,000 benefactors, will create a highly visible presence for the College of Nursing. the new three-story, 50,000 square-foot building, scheduled to open in 2012, will link to the Life Sciences Building.

The Bott Building Will provide expanded space for students and faculty, along with two stories dedicated to nursing research. It will also be the  first on campus to use a ground source geothermal energy system to heat the building in the winter and cool the building in the summer, a first in energy conservation.

While raising money and building facilities has always been important, the key to MSU’s success lies in the impact those gifts have on MSU, the state and the world.


Ben Kilpela, researcher and writer for University Development, contributed to the research for this article. –Editor.