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Virginia Tech Gets $15.2M Gift for Athletic Department

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The Roanoke Times (Virginia)

 

The money will be used to create a student-athlete performance center on the fourth floor of the Jamerson Athletic Center.

BLACKSBURG — For the better part of three years, Virginia Tech head sports nutritionist Jennie Zabinsky collected ideas and visited schools across the country to have a plan in place for when the Tech athletic department got enough funding to build a proposed enhanced dining area.

The multimillion-dollar price tag meant those goal posts were pretty far down the field — a long-term wish that was going to have to be addressed after a number of recent athletics building projects on campus.

But that changed in one fell swoop Monday, when Virginia Tech announced it has received a $15.2 million anonymous donation that'll be used to create a 17,000-square-foot, all-sports, state-of-the-art student-athlete performance center on the fourth floor of the Jamerson Athletics Center, overlooking the football practice fields.

"This is a dream come true," Zabinsky said. "It was really our long-term goal that we set up a few years ago, and for it to come this quickly and for such generous donors to be able to support our program and where we're going, it's a game-changer for not only our department but for the nutrition program.

"I'm completely shocked. But thrilled."

The donation, made by an anonymous alumni couple who are native Virginians and longtime benefactors to the university, is the single largest outright gift ever to Virginia Tech.

It completes the $16.5 million funding for the facility, which will serve as a dining room for athletes in all 22 of Virginia Tech's sports. It will replace the Bowman Room, which has existed since 1982. The project will be the first major step toward a future renovation of Cassell Coliseum, since it encompasses one side of the basketball facility.

"This is a big step in our journey to being the best in the ACC," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said at a Monday press conference while flanked by Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands. "That's what we aspire to, is to be a leader across the board, and we will get there in our conference."

The anonymous couple has also established an endowment that'll provide additional funding for upkeep to the facility in future years.

"To get it in one gift, $15.2 million — I've been in college athletics since I was 24. I've never seen one like that," Babcock said.

The couple had spoken with Babcock and other fundraisers at Virginia Tech for some time about the possibility of backing such a project. When they called back to ask a few more questions, they made their decision to cover the entire cost.

Babcock's reaction?

"To try to not screw it up at that point," he said.

Virginia Tech released conceptual art for the project Monday, although the design build process is next. Different firms will be competing for the contract, which could alter the final look of the room. Babcock said it will be a 20-month project with a completion date set for the fall of 2019.

The school has used the Bowman Room for various functions, including occasional team meals for different sports. But Virginia Tech never had an athlete-specific dining facility quite like this, instead putting various "fueling stations" around the Jamerson building at which athletes could grab snacks to supplement meals from the campus' regular award-winning cafeterias.

The new facility will nearly triple the size of the existing space. Putting that all under one roof — in a central location for athletics — was one of the biggest selling points of the project.

"Can somebody else go out and build a center like this? I guess they could," Babcock said. "But I bet they couldn't do it in a central location with all the other components and many facets that we're going to bring to it."

"For our athletes, convenience is everything for them," Zabinsky said.

Nutrition is becoming a larger focus of intercollegiate athletics. With NCAA deregulation of what schools are allowed to provide their athletes, the Hokies spend $2.5 million to $3 million on food each year.

Virginia Tech has been ahead of the game from that standpoint, being among the half of the ACC schools with a dedicated sports nutrition program. The Hokies have the largest staff in the league with five dieticians — a concerted hiring effort by Zabinsky for the last few years so that Tech wouldn't have to make a huge leap when this project came to fruition.

For coaches, it fills a major need and serves as a recruiting tool.

"We talk about the thing we do best in our program is develop players," football coach Justin Fuente said. "And part of that is we devote our resources to their development. We don't have a waterfall in our locker room because it doesn't help our players. But this is another statement in terms of helping our kids from a developmental standpoint.

"I think most of our kids, it's probably true across the country, are very uneducated about proper nutrition. I know I was when I came out of school. It's got nothing to do with their background other than it just hasn't been important. Jennie and her staff now having the ability to literally feed them on a daily basis in this facility, I think it is just going to be really transformational in our developmental model."

Fuente said the football team has a mandatory breakfast in the Bowman Room every day and the nutrition staff will often provide meals for after practices, but this will expand the ability to feed players regularly.

"We've seen more gains through not doing anything different in the weight room but feeding our kids on a more consistent basis," Fuente said. "If you just give them money, they're not going to buy food. And if they do, it's not going to be good food."

The room won't just be for dining. Zabinsky hopes to do more cooking demonstrations for athletes to teach them healthier foods to make when away from the facility.

Babcock said the room will seamlessly connect to the concourse of Cassell Coliseum and can serve as a hospitality suite for certain donor and club levels as well as for hosting other university functions, such as those related to graduation.

The funding to fast-track this construction will clear the way for athletics to focus on other projects when Virginia Tech launches its next university capital campaign in a couple of years.

Babcock would like to next address expanding the strength and conditioning area in the football building, renovating Cassell Coliseum and doing work on the east side of Lane Stadium, in addition to addressing funding for scholarships.

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December 19, 2017
 
 
 

 

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