Alumna gives Wilson College $2.3 million to repair library

Feb. 28, 2014 Public Opinion

Chambersburg>> Wilson College has received a $2.3 million gift to repair the college library.

“The gift is in recognition of the fact that I love Wilson very much,” said Wilson alumna Sue Davison Cooley, a philanthropist from Portland, Ore. “I am a very, very big fan of Wilson. I think it has much to give for women, and men too. It’s a great place.”

Cooley’s gift to the Reimagining the John Stewart Memorial Library fund raiser will net the college a total of $4.6 million, under the terms of a matching gift provided last year by Wilson alumna Marguerite Lenfest of Huntingdon Valley.

With the donation and match, the campaign has raised $9.6 million in cash and pledges for the $12 million library project.

Cooley’s “extraordinarily generous gift” means that the college has hit its target of having 80 percent of total costs in hand before breaking ground on the library project, according to Wilson College President Barbara K. Mistick.

“I want to express gratitude on behalf of everyone at Wilson to Mrs. Cooley for investing in the future of the college and helping make our plans for a comprehensive, state-of-the-art library a reality,” Mistick said.

The college plans to repair and restore the original 1924 library building. The 1961 addition also is to be razed and replaced with a contemporary learning commons. The learning commons will house the Sue Davison Cooley Gallery in honor of her “transformational gift.”

The library will include academic support and information technology services, writing labs, two “smart” classrooms, a commuter lounge, bookstore and outdoor plaza.

“Our goal is to have the library re-opened for fall 2015,” said Brian Ecker, college vice president for finance and administration.

The Wilson College Board of Trustees voted on Feb. 21 to authorize the preparation of construction documents and the demolition of the library annex. The library has been designed. Construction, which is expected to take about 14 to 15 months, could begin as early as July or August, according to Ecker.

Wilson’s library building has been closed since the fall of 2011 when the heating system failed. Its functions have been relocated to the lower level of Lenfest Commons.

An updated library configured to meet expanded enrollment will be an important component of Wilson’s revitalization, according to a press release from the college.

Cooley said she was interested in the library and making sure that students have other places on campus for convening and quiet study.

Cooley, who attended Wilson from 1940 to 1942, is a longtime supporter of the college. She donated $1 million in 2005 to establish a scholarship for participants in the Women with Children Program in honor of her friends and Wilson alumnae Sylvia Scalera Davison and Mary Meinecke Dee, both with the Class of 1944. Cooley has also been a regular contributor to the college’s annual fund.

Over the objections of several alumnae, Wilson College trustees voted a year ago to admit male residential students in the fall 2014. The school was founded in 1869 as one of the nation’s first colleges for women.

The private college offers bachelor’s degrees in 25 majors and master’s degrees in education, the humanities and accounting. Its enrollment for the fall 2013 was 662 students from 20 states and 14 countries.

Wilson in one year has matched the $3.6 million Lenfest gift, which had been broken into three, $1.2 million matching elements, according to Camilla Rawleigh, college vice president for institutional advancement. Prior to and independent of the Lenfest gift, Wilson had raised $2.4 million for the library project.

“The deep commitment of our alumnae and alumni to their alma mater and to this project is gratifying,” Mistick said. “And as the college moves forward with our Wilson Today plan to revitalize the college, wehave continued to experience wonderful support from those closest to the college.”

The Wilson Today plan aims to transform the college into “a thriving liberal arts institution” by adding programs in the health sciences, expanding coeducation across all programs and improving infrastructure, according to the press release. It also offers incentives to students for lower tuition and repayment of up to $10,000 in federal loans.