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Largest gift in W.Va. State history 'a game changer'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Thanks to the largest single donation in the history of West Virginia State University, President Brian Hemphill announced plans for a new athletic complex on Wednesday.

"This complex will benefit all 204 student athletes due to the physical training this complex will provide," Hemphill said in a speech. "This is truly a game changer for our student athletes."

An anonymous donor is giving the school $1 million, Hemphill said.

Half will be allocated for the new sports complex, which will be located near the southeast corner of the football stadium. The other half will go toward scholarships for students studying business, computer science or mathematics.

Hemphill declined to say if the donor attended State, but he did say he solicited a donation from the person. He said the gift was a sign of investment in the university.

Student-athletes currently share a workout facility with the rest of the campus, and Hemphill said that made it tough for the athletic program to compete with other universities.

The new facility will have a weight room, two locker rooms, a meeting area and athletic offices that Hemphill said would be available to all student-athletes.   

The complex will cost $2.1 million, spokeswoman Donna Simon said. With the gift announced Wednesday and previous fundraising, the school has $850,000 on hand.

Simon said she was confident the university would raise the rest of the amount needed for the scheduled groundbreaking next fall.

Hemphill also announced plans for State's first new residence hall since 1969.

"This is a done deal. This is something our board is excited about and is waiting for," he said after the speech. "We're just happy we're going to be able to deliver it to them and bring it to them for a vote."  

Funding for the project is not a done deal.

The hall - designed for 200 to 300 students with meeting rooms, an "academic success center" and a dining area - will cost $14 million to $19 million, Simon said. Work is expected to begin in 2014.  

The new hall, which Simon said does not yet have a name, will be built between Prillerman and Gore halls.

Gore Hall, an old residential building the university recently closed, will be demolished. The cost of the demolition is included in the total project estimate, Simon said.

The two project announcements came during Hemphill's first state of the university address.

Hemphill replaced longtime president Hazo Carter to become State's 10th president in July. Since then he has pushed a theme of "one message, many voices" in the hopes of getting the entire State community to rally around goals for the future.

Improving student retention and graduation rates is a major concern, Hemphill said. He said 55 percent of first-time freshman return to school for their sophomore year, and less than a quarter of State students graduate within six years.

Hemphill said these figures are not acceptable. He is confident a renewed push to bring more student housing to campus and invest in athletics will make State a more attractive place for students to come and stay.

"I think it's not only going to help with our retention, it's going to help with our recruitment as well," Hemphill said.

"Because regardless of where you go across the state, once that facility is up, the residence hall is up, you're going to see a similar level of quality in terms of the opportunities for students. I think that's going to be huge for us."   

More information is available at www.wvstateu.edu.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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