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Largest Single Capital Project in SAU History

Four people on a stage

Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, president of the St. Ambrose, pictured with Building Our Future campaign co-chairs Barb and Mike Johnson and Jim Stangle, vice president for advancement at St. Ambrose.

April 2016


On Wednesday, April 6, St. Ambrose University officials announced the public launch of a fundraising campaign that will fund the largest single capital project in the institution's 134-year history. The "Building Our Future" Campaign will help address the University's need for additional wellness, recreation, academic and athletics-related facilities through its priority capital project, the construction of a new Wellness and Recreation Center.

At a morning news conference held on campus, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, university president, announced that Mike and Barbara (Bush) Johnson, and Brian and Beth (Figge) Lemek, were providing "a new generation of St. Ambrose philanthropic and volunteer leadership, while continuing and honoring their families' history of engagement with our University" through their roles as the Building Our Future Campaign co-chairs.

 During the news conference, Mike Johnson announced that the campaign has raised more than $13 million toward the $18.5 million fundraising goal for the new Wellness and Recreation Center. "Great institutions can't live on just tradition and legacy; they have to keep up with evolving needs, and St. Ambrose needs this Wellness and Recreation Center for our students," he said.

Barbara Johnson's late father, John "Jack" Bush, and Beth Lemek's late father, John Figge, each served before them as members of the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees: Jack Bush from 1986 to 2002, and John Figge from 1970 to 1990. Barbara Johnson and the Lemeks are current Board of Trustees members. The Lemeks also are 1986 graduates of St. Ambrose.

Jim Hagen, who enjoyed a long and distinguished business career in the rail transportation sector until his retirement as chairman of the board of Conrail in 1996, and his wife, Mary, are serving as the campaign's honorary chairs. A 1956 alumnus, Jim Hagen served on the St. Ambrose Board of Trustees from 1997 to 2007, and is a trustee emeritus.

 Mike Johnson is the president of Clinton Engineering based in Clinton, Iowa. Clinton Engineering is one of the McCarthy-Bush family of companies, which has headquarters in Davenport. He said, "The impressive total raised so far for this project includes several leadership gifts of one million dollars or more. Some of those leadership donors wish to remain anonymous. Four donors are allowing us to share news today about their leadership gifts, in hopes they might inspire others to support our campaign."

Among the leadership gifts recognized were:

  •  A gift from the Richard McCarthy Trust: The late Richard McCarthy, a 1946 alumnus of St. Ambrose, established the trust. McCarthy, who founded the law firm of McCarthy, Callas, Fuhr & Ellison, PC, in Rock Island, Ill., enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career in private practice.
  •  A gift from Joyce and Joe O'Rourke: Joe O'Rourke, a class of 1972 alumnus, is a member of the St. Ambrose University Board of Trustees and is serving on the Building Our Future Campaign Council. He recently retired as an officer and stockholder from O'Rourke Sales Company, a family owned business headquartered in Davenport.
  • A gift from Brian and Beth (Figge) Lemek: Brian Lemek is a highly successful entrepreneur, and the owner and managing member of Lemek LLC, which operates numerous Panera Bread Café franchises in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Figge family has a long history of community engagement and support of philanthropic causes in Davenport, including the Figge Art Museum.
  • A gift from the family of the late John "Jack" and Patricia Bush: the Bush children, and their children's spouses, made a collective gift in tribute to Jack and Pat Bush, whose deep commitment to Catholic education was an important value passed on to their children and grandchildren. Jack Bush was a graduate of St. Ambrose Academy, the boys high school affiliated with St. Ambrose College that merged with Immaculate Conception Academy for girls to form Assumption High School in 1958. While a St. Ambrose trustee, Jack Bush co-chaired the University's library capital campaign in the mid-1990s.

Lescinski noted, "Many of the donors who have made commitments are first-time major donors. They have been inspired to make significant gifts in order to make this dream of a new Wellness and Recreation Center a reality; something hoped for and talked about for many years. In many cases they also represent the next generation of philanthropists at St. Ambrose."

The new Wellness and Recreation Center will have 80,000-square-feet of space. It will be located adjacent to, and just west of, the current Physical Education Center on the north side of the St. Ambrose campus near its Lombard Street border.

Work is scheduled to be completed in time for use by the class entering in fall 2017. The new facilities will provide exercise and activity space for the general student population, lab space for some of the University's health and wellness-related academic programs including Kinesiology, and much-needed practice space for student-athletes who participate in the University's 23 varsity sports.

The building, designed by RDG Planning and Design of Des Moines, Iowa, will have a distinctive half-barrel roof construction that is reminiscent of a 1950s-era field house; and, a brick exterior, in keeping with other campus facilities. The design will feature large, light-filled spaces. Numerous windows below the roof line, and some areas with glass walls, will give the interior an open feel and give students great views inside the building and out to the campus.

"Recruiting and serving students requires, first of all, excellent academic offerings and talented faculty and staff, who give personal attention to our students. It also requires the proper modern facilities," said Lescinski. "Adding state-of-the-art wellness, recreation and athletics facilities is part of ensuring a robust and thriving St. Ambrose for years to come."

Among the major interior features of the Wellness and Recreation Center will be a 5,200-square-foot, two-story cardio workout and weight room with machines and weights more suited to recreational athletes. A 2,200-square-foot multipurpose group exercise room will be used by the Kinesiology Department for movement-type courses, by Campus Recreation for group exercise, and by the Athletics Department for cheerleading and dance team practices. An Exercise Physiology lab will help serve the growing student interest in Kinesiology majors and careers related to health and wellness.

Mike Johnson said, "The campus residential population has more than doubled since the Physical Education Center was constructed in 1983, and the number of athletics teams has grown from 8 to 23 since that time. Since 2000, the University has constructed or renovated more than a dozen buildings. The Wellness and Recreation Center is part of a strategic plan the University has carefully implemented to respond to growth, and to meet the expectations of prospective students and their families."

A major portion of the space within the Wellness and Recreation Center will be devoted to a 56,000-square-foot field house, which will provide multipurpose areas for recreation, intramurals, athletics practices and some varsity competitions, including track-and-field meets. Among the field house features will be a 200-meter competition track, pole vault areas, and long- and triple-jump pits; and, four basketball/volleyball courts, including two wooden floor courts and two courts made of resilient flooring.

Just off the lobby will be a 1,200-square-foot Club Room used as a conference room, and for recruiting and advancement events. The lobby also will have a Hall of Fame area, honoring the accomplishments of players and coaches, and displaying Fighting Bee memorabilia. The St. Ambrose Athletics Hall of Fame has inducted more than 275 individuals and six teams since it was established in 1979.

The development of the new Wellness and Recreation Center will allow the University to repurpose and remodel approximately 19,000-square-feet of space in the existing, 33-year-old PE Center. That work will create space for a second weight room dedicated primarily to athletics teams use, and new offices for the Athletics Department and Campus Recreation. Varsity basketball and volleyball games will continue to be held on Leo Kilfoy Court in the PE Center.

According to St. Ambrose Vice President for Advancement Jim Stangle, more than 600 alumni and community members have taken on new volunteer roles with the University in the past few years, either in campaign roles or as members of University advisory councils.

Mike Johnson said, "We are encouraged by our donors' support thus far, and are confident that our alumni, friends and the larger community will help us achieve our goal. We will be launching an alumni-focused public campaign soon. The message we will carry forward is that every donation to the campaign matters, and every gift of time and treasure will help Ambrosians to "Build Our Future" together."   The University plans to hold a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the new Wellness and Recreation Center at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 7.

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