Ross says he wasn't at CMU when $10 million allocation was made to Events Center

University President George Ross told members of the media Thursday following the Board of Trustees he was not at Central Michigan University when the $10 million allocation was made to the Events Center.

“I wasn’t (at CMU), I was in Mississippi,” Ross said, referring to his time as president of Alcorn State University. “I can’t talk about what someone said when I wasn’t here. In the records it was submitted as joint fundraising. I’d be speculating if I said anything beyond that.”

At Tuesday’s Academic Senate meeting, Ross said that $10 million from the university reserves was allocated to the Events Center after fundraising goals weren’t met.

The expected cost of the Events Center was estimated at $21.5 million in 2007. In 2008, Director of Athletics Dave Heeke told Central Michigan Life that the university was committed to raising all of the money privately.

“We’re going to go out and ask alumni, friends and others to contribute to this project,” he said in 2008.

Until Tuesday evening, the Events Center website said the project would be privately funded. Kathy Wilbur, vice president of development and external relations, said at the A-Senate meeting that information on the website was wrong and she wasn’t sure why. The website was edited shortly after, deleting a link to the Frequently Asked Question's page, which explained why public funds were not being used to finance the project.

Wilbur said documentation of the intent for CMU to fund $10 million of the project can be found in the uses and finance document provided to the state.

The document, dated Aug. 19, 2009, says, “Funding for the project is coming from private donations and university capital construction reserves. It is the intent of the university that over time, private donations will reimburse the university capital construction reserves.”

Additionally, the document states that $10 million would come from university capital construction reserves (state of Michigan funds) and referred to the additional $11 million as private funds, noting that “funds raised over and above this amount will be used to offset university funding.”

“The state of Michigan knew exactly what we were doing,” Ross said, pointing to a July 2009 Board of Trustees meeting in which the board approved a motion that said: "Total project cost not to exceed $21,000,000; funding to be from donations, reserve for future construction, reserve for remodeling and university recreation facility expansion reserve."

During a Feb. 8 interview, Wilbur referred to the $10 million from CMU as a “donation,” and when asked if the money would be paid back she said, “Who would pay that money back? Where would the money be paid?”

Board of Trustees Chairman Sam Kottamasu stressed Thursday that the fundraising for the Events Center is not complete. About $8 million has been raised, with another $3 million to go.

“The center only opened 15 months ago,” he said at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting. “The average time for fundraising is five-plus years. The fundraising is still ongoing.”

A message left with former University President Michael Rao, now president at Virginia Commonwealth University, was not returned in time of publication. Rao left CMU on June 30, 2009.

In a 2008 annual donations report, signatures from Rao and then-Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Michael Leto appear on a letter that states, in part: "As we prepare to celebrate the opening of a new Education Building next year — made possible by more than $5 million in donor support — we also are taking bold strides toward raising $20 million to open the premier athletics, cultural and entertainment Events Center in central and northern Michigan"


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