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New Building, Largest-Ever Capital Campaign Underway at Thomas More

Thomas More University is celebrating its first one hundred years and is working actively to prepare for its next century.

The university announced its Second Century Campaign during a campus event on Monday afternoon in which President Joseph Chillo and other Thomas More leaders and fundraisers addressed a crowd of supporters and students.

While the campaign was publicly announced on Monday, university supporters have been active over the past year raising funds during what was referred to as "the quiet period."

They loudly announced that $15.7 million of the $30 million had already been raised.

Chillo said that this was the mist money raised on behalf of the university in twelve months than at any other time in its 100-year history.

The most visible forthcoming investment for the public's view is a planned new Academic Center building to be constructed near Turkeyfoot Road on the Crestview Hills campus. The more than $14 million project is expected to be more than 33,000 square feet to house the College of Business, the Center for Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the Institute for Religious Liberty.

The university expects the new building to allow for expanded curriculum and new programs, increased collaboration between science and business programs, and more simulation-based learning.

The Saints Center will be returned to a student center, as it originally was, as part of the new plan.

Meanwhile, as the Thomas More Saints' athletics program prepares for a move to NCAA Division II from its current NAIA, there are plans to upgrade the facilities for baseball and softball teams. An area long the southeast side of campus along Renaissance Drive was determined to be an ideal location for new baseball and softball fields. (The new Academic Center will occupy part of the existing field.)

The new fields will be turf rather than grass.

The football field's turf will also be replaced.

The campus Success Center is to be blended with the Benedictine Library to create a new Learning Commons to allow for more collaboration among students.

The breakdown of the plans for the hoped-for $30 million is $3 million for athletic facilities enhancements, $3 million for the Success Center/Benedictine Library project, $14 million for the new Academic Center, $3.5 million for the school's endowment, $5 million for the Fund for Thomas More University, and $1.5 million for campaign financing.

Thomas More is also set to take over the offices of DBL Law near campus as that firm prepares for a move from Crestview Hills to Covington. This move will expand the active campus to near Interstate 275.

The announcement of the campaign concluded with an outdoor celebration held for students with food, music, games, and Saints/campaign swag.

NKY is not NKY without TMU

President Chillo said in a video presented to the assembled crowd that Northern Kentucky is not Northern Kentucky without Thomas More University. He was asked afterwards to expand on that message.

"We were the first college in Northern Kentucky," Chillo told The River City News. Thomas More, founded in 1921 as Villa Madonna College, pre-dates Northern Kentucky University by nearly fifty years, and Gateway Community & Technical College by around eighty.

"What you have today is a strong regional Catholic liberal arts institution that is one of a kind in Northern Kentucky and I think that speaks well not just to our immediate community here, but also to the region and the impact we have and that our graduates have when they serve the community in the workforce," he said.

Judith Marlowe, chair of the TMU board of trustees, said that people in the region feel a connection to Thomas More because of the way they have been personally touched by it, aiding the campaign in its "quiet period" fundraising effort.

"This has generated a feeling of gratitude in the community," Marlowe said. "The grade schools, the high schools have been taught by individuals who have been prepared for their teacher certification by Thomas More."

Another important component of why the university is so far along in its capital campaign is the community's trust in what is happening on campus, she said. 

"You can't ask people to invest in an institution that is floundering," Marlowe said. "This is not about rescuing Thomas More. This is about flourishing with Thomas More and moving on to the goal of not being the biggest, but of being the best and being the right size to accomplish all of the goals that are part of the rich tradition of this university."

She also credited President Chillo for instilling confidence in the community. Chillo became president of the university just over two years ago and since then, the school's endowment has grown 49% to $35 million

"We were looking for a president who was going to be transformative. The status quo does not guarantee the survival of this institution," Marlowe said. "With Dr. Chillo's arrival in this community, he has been embraced by people because of his demeanor, because of his warmth and welcoming personality. That raises the confidence in people that this is a safe investment."

Alumnus Wilbert Ziegler, a 1953 graduate of the university back when it was located in Covington as Villa Madonna College, is the honorary chair of the Second Century Campaign, serving with co-chairs Bob Sathe and Melissa Lueke, who also spoke at Monday's event. Ziegler is a prominent attorney in the Northern Kentucky region and reflected on what he has seen happen with his alma mater nearly seventy years after he graduated.

Ziegler remembered a fledgling campus along 12th and Scott streets in Covington, when lunch was served as bean soup at local saloons. He said that he paid $75 a semester to attend the college, while the nuns who taught him were paid $50 a semester. While he had to work his way through school, he still viewed his time on the old campus as one with a scholarship.

"Every day that door opened and one of those (nuns) walked through the door, that was my scholarship right there," Ziegler said. "And now it's time for me to give back and that's what I am doing."

-Michael Monks, editor & publisher