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$51 million gift

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The Marquette University Law School, currently housed in Sensenbrenner Hall (pictured above), received a $51 million gift from alumni Raymond A. and Kathryn A. Eckstein. That record donation added to $1 million donated last month by the Bradley Foundation gives Marquette a $52 million head start on collecting funds to build a new $80 million law school building.

WLJ File Photo

Less than six months after receiving an anonymous $25 million donation, Marquette University announced an endowment twice that size on May 4.

The $51 million gift, believed to be the largest ever by individuals to a Wisconsin university or college, came courtesy of Raymond A. and Kathryn A. Eckstein. The couple attended Marquette with Raymond, 81, a graduate of the Law School in 1949 and Kathryn, 80, a 1949 graduate of the university with a bachelor’s degree in speech.

Unlike the donation in December which was designated for the College of Engineering, the Eckstein’s gift is expected to help fund the construction of a new law school structure.

“We are honored and thrilled to be able to provide the Law School with the foundation for a new building, so that students in the future can have the opportunity to benefit from the education we did,” said Raymond Eckstein in a statement.

The couple currently resides in Boca Raton, Fla., but lived in Cassville, Wis., for many years when Raymond was a transportation entrepreneur.

According to Law School Dean Joseph D. Kearney, the gift came in the preliminary stages of soliciting donations for a new $80 million facility. The new Law School would be the centerpiece of an approximately $100-110 million campaign to expand facilities and enhance scholarship programs.

“The process had really just begun and the Ecksteins stepped forward with this gift,” said Kearney who hopes to fund the project entirely through donations and gifts.

Kearney, along with alumni, current students and other Marquette officials researched expansion options several years ago and in 2005 concluded an architectural program statement process.

The results indicated a need for a new facility. The process has entered the conceptual design stage, but has yet to be submitted to the board of trustees for final approval.

“The hope is to get a detailed conceptual design to the board as early as September, but obviously, the members are familiar with where the project is and the elements involved,” said Kearney.

Pending board approval and the collection of an additional $20 million in funding by the end of the year, groundbreaking could commence next spring and the project could be completed by August 2009.

“That’s a very ambitious goal considering up until a few months ago the Law School had never received a seven-figure gift, let alone one of eight-figures,” said Kearney who referenced the $1 million gift the law school received from the Bradley Foundation in April.

The proposed 180,000 square-foot structure, which will be named in honor of the Ecksteins, is expected to sit on the corner of 11th Street and West Clybourn Street in the area known as Tory Hill.

The new building’s 125,000 square feet of useable space would be more than double that of the 57,000-square-foot Sensen-brenner Hall, which was built in 1924. The new facility is expected to include a café and small fitness area. It will rest on an underground garage with 450 parking spaces.

“We are kind of land-locked, but excited that the law school won’t have to put its back to the freeway and will have its face on the interstate,” said Kearney.

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