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Donations coming in for Co-Lin athletic upgrades

Co-Lin may consider a 10-year loan to help pay for half an ambitious upgrade of all athletic facilities on the Wesson campus, and has already scored a six-figure success in efforts to bring donors on board with the plan.

Copiah-Lincoln Community College President Jane Hulon told the board of trustees Thursday at its December meeting two companies have already agreed to be platinum sponsors of the “Back the Pack” campaign, a multi-phase improvement project that will blitz $5.2 million in upgrades to all sports complexes in what is hoped to be a three-year project. The two businesses, which Hulon did not name, are in for $10,000 per year through 2022, and two others are in for $5,000 per year for the same time, bringing the college’s sports donations up to $150,000 barely a month into the project.

“We have vendors and education partners who have indicated they’re willing to contribute,” she said. “We’re trying to be fiscally responsible in making some of the upgrades the college needs.”

Co-Lin is embarking on the plan to perform maintenance and aesthetic improvements to its sports facilities in an effort to keep pace with other, more modern community colleges across the state with which it competes for students.

Hulon told the board in November Co-Lin lost around 1,000 students from its seven-county district to other community colleges during the 2017-2018 school year — an exodus from Southwest Mississippi that may have cost the school around $2.5 million in tuition and fees — and upgraded athletics programs are necessary to bring the campus up-to-date and attract the attention of graduating high school seniors vetting campuses.

The upgrade campaign is designed to spend $2.7 million in the first year and includes some projects already underway. The second year will see a little more than $500,000 in expenditures and is intended as a cool-down period that will allow the board to assess its progress. Another $2 million in projects will go out in the third year to complete the upgrades.

The plan calls for converting the football field at Stone Stadium to turf and installing a new scoreboard, construction of new tennis courts, improvements to the softball field, renovations to the basketball gym, improvements to the baseball dugouts, remodeling of the baseball facility, improvements to the training room and fitness center, and irrigation for Wolf Hollow golf course.

If the board approves the loan, it would have $2 million on hand immediately, repayable over a decade at $200,000 per year. Hulon said the school is steadily making presentations to donors seeking the other half of the project costs — a letter seeking donations from more than 1,500 former students and athletes will hit the post office today.

Hulon said some of the more time-sensitive projects concerning the football program, which must be completed by the fall semester next year, could be kicked off early in 2019. The college board will have final say on all projects and will approve them one-by-one as funds are raised.

“If we raise it all tomorrow, then we’ve hit our goal, but we’re not going to bring projects to you for approval until we’re ready to bid,” Hulon told the board.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to hire Jackson-based Wier Boerner Allin Architecture to manage the project. The firm intends to deliver the master plan by the end of next month for the board to consider at its February board meeting — the January meeting, which would have been the week of New Year’s, was canceled — and have plans for the new turf football field ready for inspection by March.

Wier Boerner Allin has a local connection — principal architect Michael Boerner is the son of Brookhaven attorney Bill Boerner — and has experience with large-scale athletics projects. Among its select clients are Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi.