Newman University announces campaign to construct science building

Former Bishop Eugene Gerber speaks Saturday night at a special dinner at Newman University announcing the construction of a science building to be named after Gerber.
Former Bishop Eugene Gerber speaks Saturday night at a special dinner at Newman University announcing the construction of a science building to be named after Gerber. The Wichita Eagle

Newman University on Saturday publicly announced its “Facing Forward” campaign to construct a building on campus to replace the 50-year-old Heimerman Science Center.

The school, which already has raised more than 80 percent of the funds for the $24.5 million building, is hoping it will cement Newman’s place in the regional health care industry, according to university president Noreen Carrocci.

In the past 10 years, the school has rapidly expanded its science and allied health programs, and now more than half of its undergraduates are enrolled in those programs, Carrocci said.

Newman also is known for its nursing program as well as its students’ high acceptance rate into medical schools.

“We are looked to in this community for health care professionals, and we provide them,” Carrocci said. “We are supporting the No. 2 industry in Wichita, which is health care.”

At a time when many baby-boomer health care professionals are preparing for retirement, officials say Newman graduates are poised to play a role in filling those vacancies.

“We’re in an important time in health care right now in the United States,” said Jeff Korsmo, president and CEO of Via Christi Health and a member of Newman’s board of trustees.

“There are a lot of ways that Newman and the new science building will help us meet … challenges in the future.”

Fundraising effort

Newman first identified the need for a new science building in 2010 when drafting a 10-year Campus Master Plan. The aging Heimerman Science Center was assessed as not being suitable for renovation, and university officials began planning for a new science building.

Since 2012, Newman has been privately fundraising for the building, which will be named in honor of former Wichita Bishop Eugene Gerber.

It was only in the past year and a half, however, that major progress was made toward accomplishing the goal. The effort was capped by multiple million-dollar donations in 2014 and late 2015 from the Wallace Foundation, Fugate Enterprises and the university’s sponsor, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ.

“Fundraising wasn’t easy for a while, with people climbing out of the recession,” Carrocci said. “That’s been the hard part.

“The Wallace Foundation gift … was a big deal for us. That really helped put us over and get us to this point.”

J.V. Johnston, who was hired to oversee fundraising and other matters at Newman in March 2014, attributes Newman’s recent high-profile gifts to “divine providence.”

“We’ve had a really good run in the last year and a half,” he said. “I think it’s just God allowing us to connect with the right people that have their hearts in the project.”

The building will be the most expensive in Newman’s history, even after adjusting for inflation.

The last major building constructed on the Newman campus was in 2007, when the Dugan-Gorges Library and Conference Center was completed. The campaign to build it raised $14.25 million.

Newman is planning to break ground on the Bishop Gerber Science Center on June 10.

As of Wednesday, the university had raised about $20.4 million of the required $24.5 million to construct the science building.

Newman also announced Saturday it had received a $1 million challenge grant from the Mabee Foundation. If the school can raise $3.1 million by Jan. 12, 2017, the foundation will kick in $1 million, essentially completing the fundraising effort.

In addition to constructing the building, the project will also include renovations to Eck Hall, which houses some of Newman’s allied health programs.

The building will be constructed by Dondlinger and Sons, whose principals are all Newman alumni.

The school will break ground on the facility June 10 and is planning on the building being operational by fall 2017.

Newman hopes to raise $30 million total in its “Facing Forward” campaign, with the rest of the money being distributed between its annual fund and its endowment. It also has a goal to raise $2.5 million through planned gifts.

As of Wednesday, total donations to the “Facing Foward” campaign were nearly $25 million.

What it means for Wichita

Korsmo, the Via Christi executive, said the new building will likely attract students to health care professions.

“We’re fortunate that Newman has the range of programs that it does,” he said. “They’re trained here, and usually that means they’ve come from somewhere around here. That makes it more attractive for them to stay here.”

Newman has five medical programs that are not offered at other Wichita universities – sonography, radiologic technology, occupational therapy assistant, nurse anesthesia and respiratory care.

Korsmo said if Newman maintains its status as a player in the medical community, it has the potential to benefit the local economy.

“Places like Newman … are producing the people that allow us to be that contributor to the economy and to the improvement of people’s health here in this region,” Korsmo said.

“It’s not all about the building, of course. It’s about the faculty and the programs and the students being very engaged, but a great facility makes an important difference.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt