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Virginia Tech has received a $15.2 million donation, the largest ever gift to Tech athletics and the single-largest outright gift ever given to the university.
University president Tim Sands and director of athletics Whit Babcock announced the donation on Monday morning.
“Today is certainly an exciting announcement about our future, but also our potential as an athletic department,” Babcock said. “This student-athlete performance center of this quality was and is our top facility priority for all of our sports. It is a game changer for us, and to use the first sports analogy of the day, it’s a home run.”
The donation gives the athletic department the rest of the $16.5 million it needed to fund the creation of a “state-of-the-art student-athlete performance center”, that focuses on athlete nutrition and development. The new facility will be created on the fourth floor of the Jamerson Athletic Center, encompassing parts of the Cassell Coliseum concourse and the Bowman Room.
“Oh my gosh, this is a dream come true,” said Jennie Zabinsky, an associate athletic director for sports nutrition. “For the past three years we’ve been building the program. We’ve been focusing on fueling stations, where they’re getting fuel and nutrition before and after practice, focusing on snacks and nutrient timing, but this is kind of icing on the cake.”
Virginia Tech’s new student-athlete performance center will benefit all 22 varsity athletic teams on campus, and is centrally located between all 22 teams’ offices and spaces. The focus of the facility will be to further advance Virginia Tech’s nutritional plans for their student-athletes, something that is already underway in the Virginia Tech football program.
“The thing that we do best in our program is develop our players,” said football head coach Justin Fuente. “What we do is we develop them academically, we develop them socially, spiritually and athletically. 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.”
“The true value of this place is the emphasis of meals,” Zabinsky said. “Sitting together and having real meals, and then it being performance-based. We call them high-performance plates. Building menus around recovery and hydration, getting on the field quicker, getting bigger, stronger and faster. We can do that with fueling stations, but they need meals throughout the day. The fueling stations are more to fill in the gaps and really the timing of things. This was really our ultimate goal.”
The facility project is still in the design phase, so a final floor layout and plan is not yet available. However, early renderings and plans encompass the entire fourth floor of Jamerson, and will include a massive expansion of the current space. The entire facility will be a 17,000-square foot area, nearly tripling the current 6,000-square foot area. The hope is that the new facility will not only help those student-athletes on campus, but also help recruit more prospective student-athletes to Virginia Tech.
“Hopefully it shows that we’re committed, and that we’re a program on the rise,” Babcock said. “We were pleased to do baseball. Rector Field House impacts a lot of student athletes with track and field, and soccer and lacrosse and softball. So we like doing projects that help all of them. Hopefully it shows a steady progression. We don’t believe in gold-plated facilities and waterfalls, and those are certainly nice, but for what we need and what we’re trying to do to differentiate ourselves, we feel like we’re really hitting the sweet spot with this one.”
“First, it speaks to our dedication to our student-athlete experience,” Fuente said. “Not only is this a nutrition upgrade, this is also a social upgrade. Whit mentioned volleyball players and football players breaking bread together or eating together. It speaks again to our community feel here, and I think it’s going to be a really neat, kind of a common place, a fantastic location, and I think kids will see when we do something, we do it first class, first rate. When we say we’re about the student-athlete experience and student-athlete development, we meet that challenge head on.”
The $15.2 million donation was made be a couple who are Virginia natives and alumni of Virginia Tech. The couple wished to remain anonymous, but Sands, Babcock, Fuente and several other figures at Virginia Tech have developed a relationship with the couple over the last few years.
“This donor couple wished to be in the background today. They have the spirit of Ut Prosim,” Babcock said. “They want the focus solely to be on Virginia Tech, and they believe like we do that this is our window of time, our special window of time to accomplish some great things at Virginia Tech athletically and academically.”
Babcock said that while ambitious, the plan is to have the project completed by the fall of 2019. That gives Virginia Tech roughly 20 months to start and finish construction, as well as hire the requisite staff to run the new facility.
“Yeah, there’s a lot of work in the next 20 months. Not just to build it, but do we do it in-house, do we use some of the university food service because they’re so good, who do we hire, how many people does it take to manage?” Babcock said. “There’s going to be a lot of wheels turning, but that’s a good problem to have.”